Alabama's two GOP senators were among only five Republicans who sided against a procedural vote Tuesday that pushed President Barack Obama's trade agenda forward. The Senate is now expected to vote on the actual bill, known as Trade Promotion Authority, by tomorrow, according to Politico.
The measure, which needed 60 "yes" votes, passed by the slimmest of margins, 60-37, after pro-trade Democrats joined with most Republicans on a procedural vote that set the stage for a final vote on TPA, the so-called fast-track trade legislation which paves the way for a still-negotiated trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership to be approved.
Alabama Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby cast "no" votes on the procedural vote. Last month, they were the only Republicans among states with two GOP senators toboth vote against TPA, which also included measures on currency manipulation and customs enforcement. The Senate had to vote on the package again Tuesday because the House version of TPA didn't include those provisions.
In a statement, Sessions blasted the majority who voted "yes," arguing that the trade deal will lead to the loss of American jobs. He also said the Trans-Pacific Partnership may also threaten U.S. sovereignty because language in the deal would create a trans-national organization that could impact American immigration and labor policy.
"Washington broke arms and heads to get that 60th vote—not one to spare—to impose on the American people a plan which imperils their jobs, wages, and control over their own affairs," the senator said. "It is remarkable that so much energy has been expended on advancing the things Americans oppose, and preventing the things Americans want."
Shelby said in a statement that he voted "no" because he had reservations about Obama's negotiating skills, adding that he believed the president has overstepped his presidential authority through executive actions on immigration and negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran.
"While I support the principle of free trade, I voted against moving forward on a bill that would provide the president with 'fast-track' authority," he said. "President Obama has abused the power of his office many times, and I have serious concerns with his ability to negotiate a trade deal that will be in the best interest of the American people."
Also siding with Alabama's senators were two presidential candidates – Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky. The fifth GOP "no" vote was Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
The procedural vote doesn't make it a certainty that TPA will pass when the Senate votes on the actual bill, but the action makes it more likely that the controversial legislation will be approved.
The TPA would force Congress to only take an up-or-down vote on trade deals that the president negotiates, and the measure would be in effect for six years. Fast-track prevents Congress from amending trade deals that the president negotiates and limits how much time the legislature can debate the pacts.
Obama has said he needs fast-track authority to negotiate the TPP because the 11 other Pacific Rim countries involved in the deal may back out of negotiations if they know Congress can change the terms of the pact.