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CEO Daily: Saturday, June 20th

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

After a bumpy few weeks in Washington, it must have been something of a relief for President Obama to touch down Friday afternoon in San Francisco. The Bay Area, after all, lent its booming wealth and tech wizardry to his start-up of a presidential campaign in 2007, and it has remained a stronghold of mutual goodwill ever since. But a reminder of the fight he’s been waging with his own party over trade policy trailed him to the coast.

Taking the stage in a Hilton hotel ballroom near Union Square, Obama embraced his introducer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). It had been unclear over the past week whether the two were on speaking terms, after Pelosi stunned the White House last Friday with her late-breaking defection from his effort to secure fast-track negotiating authority on a mega-deal linking twelve Pacific Rim nations. Obama’s push — a legacy-burnishing project that forms the cornerstone of his second-term agenda — just completed a head-spinning loop-de-loop, from sure thing to dead in the water following Pelosi’s gambit and back again. Now, teetering but with a second life, its path forward hangs on the administration’s ability to execute a complicated procedural sequence with the assistance of a sliver of skeptical Senate Democratic free-traders. Amid the tumult, San Francisco should represent a safe haven of Democratic encouragement: A port city surrounded by the liberal-heavy tech industry that shares this president’s vision of progressive values married to international engagement. But on trade, its Congressional representatives have taken a different tack. The Bay Area’s all-Democratic House delegation, eight members strong, lined up uniformly against fast-track. Why? To believe the industry’s Washington hands, in the intra-party warfare, tech has been a stalwart and monolithic Obama ally. A Washington Post story earlier this month detailed how tech executives recently gave a visiting delegation of business-friendly House Democrats an earful about their need for the pact, officially the Trans Pacific Partnership, that fast-track is aimed at enabling. To the contrary, a source with knowledge of the trip tells Fortune that the corporate brass barely mentioned the issue. “It was pretty minimal,” the source says. A spokeswoman for Uber, one of the stops, confirms: “I can assure you it didn’t come up.”

To be sure, different Silicon Valley sectors have varying stakes in the debate. Chip manufacturers, for example, have an investment in the opening of foreign markets not shared by content creators more concerned with intellectual property protections. Nevertheless, the industry’s failure to muster behind a position left a vacuum that anti-trade unions and environmental groups happily filled — a microcosm of the broader labor-vs-business imbalance that shaped the fight nationwide. “The Bay Area delegation being 100 percent ‘No’ is probably the best example in the entire country of how badly they did their politics,” Wade Randlett, a longtime Democratic wrangler in Silicon Valley and free-trade supporter, tells Fortune. “And if it weren’t for the business community’s massive mishandling of a completely obvious problem, it would’ve been easy. We wouldn’t have gotten every one, but we should have had 75 percent of the Congressional Bay Area members.” The fight rages on. Once it’s settled, trade boosters will need to sort through their performance for object lessons.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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Around the Water Cooler

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