Texas GOP Rep. Pete Sessions told Newsmax Friday that he joined with Democrats to hand President Barack Obama an embarrassing defeat on renewing aid to workers displaced by international trade agreements because "if the Democrats aren't going for it, then why would I be for it?"
"They gave up on their own base," Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee, said in an interview. "They gave up on their own party.
"They're simply doing what union leaders want done, as opposed to the workers who might be in trouble as a result of some trade deal that could happen."
Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks called the provision to renew the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program "financial insanity."
"We don't have the money," he told Newsmax. "We have to borrow to get it — and we don't have the ability to pay it back.
"Why in the world are we having to pay billions of dollars to people who are unemployed by trade agreements, when trade agreements are supposed to be boosting American employment?"
In a humiliating slap to Obama, the House voted 126-302 to reject the renewal of the retraining aid, which would provide federal assistance for workers who lose their jobs through imports.
Normally a Democratic priority, rank-and-file members saw defeating the assistance as a way to scuttle the overall Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill. It would allow the president to negotiate deals with foreign governments.
Congress could only approve or reject the agreements but not amend them. Obama hopes to use the authority to complete a deal with 12 Pacific nations.
However, only 40 Democrats voted for the assistance renewal, while 144 opposed it. Republicans broke 158-86 against it.
A second roll-call vote on the TPA passed 219-211. The vote was mostly symbolic and called by Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
But under current House rules, the overall legislation, which was approved last month by the Senate, could not advance to the White House unless both portions were agreed to.
Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and dozens of union-backed members of her party led the charge against the assistance provision. The blow followed shortly after Obama met with Democrats on Capitol Hill to make a personal plea for the trade authority.
"I don't think you ever nail anything down around here," Obama told reporters as he left the Capitol. "It's always moving."
Before the vote, Pelosi declared on the House floor,"I will be voting today to slow down the fast track to get a better deal for the American people.
"Bigger paychecks, better infrastructure. Help the American people fulfill the American dream."
The California representative's remarks brought handshakes and hugs from fellow Democrats who had labored for months to stop fast track.
She even thanked "our friends in labor, environmental groups, faith-based groups, who have expressed their opposition to so much of what has been presented."
Reflecting on the day's activities, Sessions sized it up to Newsmax this way: "The president has lost the faith and confidence of Democrats to ask for their support for more jobs and better opportunities.
"The Democratic Party has stuck on the side of unemployment and being afraid of new jobs and jobs skills in this country," he added. "They have, in essence, given up what their party has for years stood for."
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a supporter of both measures, told reporters after the vote, "This isn't over yet."
The White House agreed.
"Our work is not done yet," said Josh Earnest, White House press secretary.
House Speaker John Boehner, who took the rare step of voting for both pieces of legislation, called the results "disappointing."
"Republicans did our part, and we remain committed to free trade because it is critical to creating jobs and growing our economy," the Ohio Republican said. "I’m pleased that a bipartisan House majority supported trade promotion authority.
"This is an opportunity for the Democratic Party to take stock and move forward in a constructive fashion on behalf of the American people."
Boehner scheduled another vote on the trade assistance for Tuesday.
Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, who spurned both bills, told Newsmax that he doesn't expect many more Democrats to move into Obama's court.
"President Obama says this is going to be the most progressive trade bill ever, and he's tried to get the Democrats on board and they don't want to go," he said. "I'm just suspicious of what in the world he's got in mind for labor, the environment.
"It was a pretty large vote against it today," Brat added. "I don't see how that logic shifts. I don't see what they can add to get it to pass."
The debate and vote are certain to resonate in next year's presidential election as well. Most Republican candidates favor fast track, while Democrat Hillary Clinton remains uncommitted.
Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, an opponent of the measure who is challenging Clinton for the nomination, has called on her to take a position.
Republicans have long opposed giving Obama a greater hand in negotiating foreign trade agreements because of the effect of American workers and the secrecy under which these accords would be reached.
Many have also slammed the international arbitration panel that would be created under the law that would remove disputes out of U.S. courts.
"The procedural process used to bring TPA to the floor was convoluted and deeply flawed," Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon said. He voted against providing the retaining assistance but supported fast track in the symbolic vote.
"Despite my objection to the rule, I continue to believe that TPA is both a necessary and important piece of legislation and I was proud to vote in favor of it today on the House floor," he said. "Rest assured that should the administration strike a final trade deal that is bad for America, I will not hesitate to vote against it," he said.
Looking specifically at fast track, Brooks told Newsmax that the legislation would skirt constitutional requirements that the Senate ratify trade deals by a two-thirds majority.
"America’s founding fathers required a two-thirds majority to ratify treaties rather than a mere 51 percent majority," he told Newsmax. "Treaties, by their very nature, cede some of America’s sovereignty to other countries.
"Ceding sovereignty is a matter of great significance that should not be easily or lightly done," said Brooks, who plans to vote against the retraining aide on Tuesday.
Brat, adding that he also would vote negatively next week, said the new regulations created by fast track would cripple foreign nations just as federal rules have stifled U.S. economic growth,
"I am a free trader," he told Newsmax. "There are gains to trade — and if it were just about free trade, fine. What we're going to do is make the rest of the world as inefficient as we are.
"We need to lower our own regulatory burden, much less burden the rest of the world with the same growth-reducing policies."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.