The Senate on Tuesday handed President Barack Obama the biggest legislative victory of his second term, with a dramatic vote clearing the way for major trade agreements with Pacific Rim nations and the European Union.
The 60-37 vote all but ensures the passage of legislation that will allow Obama to “fast-track” the trade pacts he negotiates through Congress, preventing filibusters or amendments. Liberals have long assailed Obama’s trade agenda, but Republicans successfully wooed a bloc of Democrats led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to secure enough votes to overcome a filibuster.
With the 60-vote threshold cleared, the path is now open for the Senate to take a final vote on the legislation on Wednesday.
The fate of the bill, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, hinged on whether backers of the fast-track legislation could win over Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Chris Coons (Del.). All three remained mum as to their intentions before the vote, with Coons lambasting the Senate on his way to the chamber for taking up a free trade vote while at the same time letting financing for exports, through the Export-Import Bank, lapse. It wasn’t enough to sway his vote, though, as all three voted to move forward.
The vote came down to the wire, thanks to an eleventh-hour reversal by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who announced his opposition in a bombastic op-ed for Breitbart News that sent Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) scrambling for additional Democratic support.
Still, the razor-thin margin of the final vote count masks the fact that McConnell had slightly broader support at his disposal. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) stood by the table in the well of the Senate for most of the vote, waiting for the measure to get across the threshold of 60. As soon as it did, with a vote by Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Cardin voted no, suggesting he had been willing to vote yes if needed.
Read more: Huffington Post