June 25, 2015 / 10:22 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. Democrats shrug off retribution threats for pro-trade votes

WASHINGTON, June 25 (Reuters) - Democrats in the U.S. Congress who backed legislation key to sealing a Pacific Rim trade pact this week shrugged off threats of retribution from labor unions and liberal activists who have vowed to hold them accountable at future elections.

Forty-one Democrats this week defied pressure and supported legislation to let the White House seal trade deals and send them on a fast track through Congress.

Unions and political groups such as Democracy for America and the Working Families Party have pledged to hold pro-trade Democrats’ feet to the fire, including potentially running rival candidates at primaries for 2016 congressional elections.

Working Families National Director Dan Cantor said it was premature to say which districts might be targeted, but discussions were under way about possible House challenges.

“The combination of local anger and a viable candidate makes a potentially volatile situation,” he said.

Lawmakers, who have endured picketing, sit-ins, advertising campaigns and protests during a bruising battle for congressional approval, were largely unfazed.

“One doesn’t like to have your friends cranky but I’ve been serving this community for decades,” said veteran Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer.

“If they oppose me because of trade I think it helps me politically, quite frankly,” said first-term Representative Brad Ashford of Nebraska. “We have strong labor unions and they are my friends, but if they choose to oppose me because of a bill that will actually provide bigger and better and higher-wage jobs for them, that’s their choice.”

Democrats who voted for trade promotion authority (TPA) may also win backing from business groups more commonly aligned with Republican candidates, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

“For members, Republicans and Democrats, who voted for market opening and the TPA, we are going to do everything we can to be supportive,” NAM senior vice president of policy and government relations Aric Newhouse said.

Trade supporters also take heart from President Barack Obama’s promise the White House would have their backs if they were challenged by unions.

“At the end of the day I think the president can have a huge impact on primaries,” said Connecticut Representative Jim Himes, adding unions were playing with fire by threatening Democrats.

“It’s better to have an ally that’s with you 90 percent of the time than to risk replacing that individual ... with somebody who will be with you zero percent of the time.” (Additional reporting by Alex Wilts, Richard Cowan and David Lawder; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Christian Plumb)

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