WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday that the Senate will not vote on President Barack Obama’s signature Asian trade deal this year, punting it to the next president for changes and consideration.
The statement appeared to dash White House hopes for a vote to approve the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement after the Nov. 8 election and before Obama leaves office in January.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who controls the Senate’s voting agenda, has previously said that chances for a TPP “lame duck session” vote were “slim” or “bleak.”
“The current agreement, the Trans-Pacific (Partnership) agreement, which has some serious flaws, will not be acted upon this year,” McConnell told a Kentucky State Farm Bureau breakfast in Louisville.
“But it will still be around. It can be massaged, changed, worked on during the next administration. So, I hope America will stay in the trade business,” McConnell said.
The Obama administration is in the midst of a major push to promote the TPP deal, with cabinet officials holding dozens of events this month across the United States to try to build political support. Obama is expected to tout the TPP in the next two weeks at summits of the Group of 20 major economies in China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Laos.
A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office could not immediately be reached for comment on McConnell’s statement.
A number of senators in recent weeks have declared their opposition to the TPP deal in its current form, including Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia, who is now the party’s vice presidential candidate alongside Hillary Clinton.
Republican Senator Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, who is in a tough re-election race in a state hit by manufacturing job losses, has also said he cannot support the deal.
Support for the TPP deal has been stronger in farming states, where proponents argue that it would boost exports of agricultural products.
Clinton has said she would seek to renegotiate the trade deal if elected and has criticized its lack of enforceable provisions to prevent currency manipulation. Her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, has said that he will not pursue multilateral trade deals, only bilateral deals.
McConnell said that he hopes the United States will continue its tradition as a trading nation since its founding, adding: “To do that, it’s going to have to be done on a bipartisan basis.”
Earlier this month, House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said he saw no point in bringing up the TPP deal for a vote in any “lame duck” session of Congress later this year because “we don’t have the votes.”
Reporting by David Lawder and Tim Ahmann; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and G Crosse