Barack Obama woos freshman Democrat on trade

February 3, 2015
In The News

Democratic leaders in Congress haven’t been too receptive to President Barack Obama’s push for new trade deals — so he’s turning to a freshman.


On Tuesday, Obama sent a letter directly to Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), arguing that reaching new trade agreements is the only way to stop China from dominating the global markets and letting its lax standards run the world.


“If they succeed, our competitors would be free to ignore basic environmental and labor standards, giving them an unfair advantage against American workers,” Obama wrote to Gallego, in a letter obtained by POLITICO. “We can’t let that happen. We should write the rules, and level the playing field for the middle class.”


Obama’s looking for new fast-track authority to approve deals with Asia and Europe, and both sides say it’s a potential area of agreement between the president and the Republican Congress. But many Democrats on Capitol Hill, and among the president’s labor and progressive base, are already in open revolt.


Obama’s trying to bring back at least a few into the fold, making the case in his State of the Union and to House Democrats at their retreat in Philadelphia last month. He’s still engaged with the leadership, but going after the rank-and-file now too in a search for whoever’s ready to work with him and engage in what he sees as a debate over the actual issues, not just politics.


“Past trade deals haven’t always lived up to their promise,” Obama wrote to Gallego, , but arguing that he’s tried to improve that over the past six years of his administration.

Though there’s reason to be skeptical about new trade deals, Obama wrote to Gallego, “it’s a chance we should take.”


Gallego sent a letter to Obama last week that was also signed by fellow freshmen Democratic Reps. Brendan Boyle (Pa.), Mark DeSaulnier (Calif.), Debbie Dingell (Mich.), Brenda Lawrence (Mich.), Ted Lieu (Calif.), Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), Mark Takai (Hawaii) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.). Only Gallego got a direct response, though the White House sent copies to all the other co-signed.


Gallego’s had an unusually Obama-centric entry into Congress. Last month, as part of the president’s State of the Union advance messaging tour, Obama visited a housing development in his district with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. On just his second day after being sworn in, Gallego then got a ride back to Washington on Air Force One.