Alabama's two U.S. senators voted again Wednesday in opposition to granting President Obama so-called fast-track authority on trade deals, but the legislation cleared the Senate. The vote paves the way for Obama's trade agenda to move forward, including the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, a still-negotiated agreement between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries.
Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions were just two of five Republicans to vote against fast-track authority, which passed in a rare alliance between GOP senators who usually disagree with the president and pro-trade Democrats. The vote passed by a 60-38 margin.
Shelby and Sessions previously voiced their opposition to trade promotion authority in a procedural vote on Tuesday, and voted "no" on another version of the bill that passed the Senate late last month. The Senate had to take up the measure again this week because the other version differed from legislation passed by the House.
The Obama administration argued that fast-track authority, which bars Congress from making amendments to trade deals put forward by the president, is needed to get the trade deal passed because countries involved in negotiations may back out if they know the legislature can change its terms.
In explaining his "no" vote, Shelby said in a statement that the opposed the measure because he doesn't trust the president to broker a deal that would benefit the American people.
"I have serious concerns with Congress providing President Obama with 'fast-track' negotiating authority, which is why I voted against TPA for the second time," he said. "I am wary of ceding power to a president who continually abuses his authority, and I believe that there are far too many unanswered questions about the impact of the pending trade deals on American jobs. While I support the principle of free trade, I could not support this bill because I lack confidence in this administration's ability to negotiate a trade deal that will be in the best interest of Alabamians and all Americans."
Sessions has been among the fiercest Republican critics of trade promotion authority and the related Trans-Pacific Partnership. The senator has cited secrecy involved in the trade deal, which hasn't been made public to the American people, and has concerns that the TPP could threaten American policy on immigration, labor and other issues.
"President Obama, and allies in Congress, have won this fast-track vote. But, in exchange, they may find that they are losing something far greater: the trust of the American people," he said in a statement on Tuesday following the procedural vote. "Americans have a fundamental, decent, and just demand: that the people they elect defend their interests. And every issue to come before us in the coming months will have to pass this test: does it strengthen, or weaken, the position of the everyday, loyal American citizen?"