McConnell dashes hopes for Pacific trade deal vote before Trump takes office

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday dashed any remaining hopes that President Barack Obama’s signature Pacific-Rim trade deal would come up for a vote before President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks about the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election in Washington, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“It’s certainly not going to be brought up this year,” McConnell said of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at a news briefing in Washington.

McConnell said any decisions on TPP or other future trade agreements would be up to Trump, who would still have the authority for four more years to negotiate “better deals” with expedited approval procedures in Congress.

Trump excoriated TPP on the campaign trail as a “disaster” and “a rape of our country,” tapping into populist anger at globalization, trade and manufacturing job losses that helped propel his candidacy.

In an opinion piece published on Monday, Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Alexander Gray reiterated his opposition to major trade deals.

“Trump will never again sacrifice the U.S. economy on the altar of foreign policy by entering into bad trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, allowing China into the World Trade Organization, and passing the proposed TPP,” Navarro and Gray wrote in Foreign Policy magazine. “These deals only weaken our manufacturing base and ability to defend ourselves and our allies.”

The Obama administration has been promoting TPP among lawmakers and industry groups in anticipation of a long-shot, post-election vote despite opposition to the deal by Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

While there are many Republican supporters of free trade and TPP in Congress, McConnell and House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday they were now focused on laying the groundwork with Trump to pass Republican-focused healthcare and tax reform legislation next year.

A spokeswoman for Ryan said he had not had a change of heart since he said on a radio talk show in October that the House would not bring TPP up for a vote because of problems with several provisions and insufficient support in the House.

McConnell said his priorities for the post-election “lame-duck” session were passing a government funding extension and medical innovation legislation.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest was still trying to sell the TPP agreement in a news briefing on Wednesday.

“President Obama does continue to believe that this is the best opportunity that the Congress has to take advantage of the benefits of a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that cuts taxes, 18,000 taxes, that other countries impose on American products,” Earnest told reporters. “We’ve got a strong case to make.”

But the strong vote for Trump in industrial states made it unlikely Republicans would be willing to go against him on trade policy, analysts said.

“It’s fair to say that TPP is now in the dustbin of history,” said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a pro-trade think tank in Washington. “I don’t see a path forward for the United States to join.”

Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney