Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., accused President Obama of defying the American people by submitting a "monumental" trade agreement to a vote during the lame-duck session at the end of the year, when some lawmakers who have lost their races will be able to vote on the deal.
Obama sent Congress a statement of administrative policy that starts the clock on when he can submit the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal between 12 Pacific Rim countries, to a vote in Congress. It needs a majority in both the House and the Senate to be ratified.
"Our fears are realized," Sessions, one of the foremost trade protectionists in Congress, said Friday evening. "President Obama does not care what the good people of this nation want. He arrogantly thinks he knows best. If he could pass it with his 'pen and phone,' he surely would."
Obama and GOP leaders regarded the trade agreement as a potentially non-controversial agenda item that they could work on after Republicans took control of the Senate in the 2014 elections. It has proven to be anything but. Donald Trump attacked the deal en route to securing the Republican presidential nomination and Hillary Clinton, who once referred to the pact as the "gold standard" for trade agreements, was forced to withdraw her support in the face of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders insurgent bid for the Democratic nomination.
"President Obama knows that the only chance he has of passing the TPP is during this short window," Sessions said. "His determination flies in the face of the clear will of the American people, as demonstrated in the primaries."
On paper, the trade deal should have a good chance of passing through Congress: most Republicans support free trade, and President Obama's team additionally regards it as a national security device that will make it harder for "an emerging China ... to shape trade agreements that set America back and do not represent our values."
Still, the ratification vote could be a dicey proposition if it happens after the election. Some free-trade proponents, who would normally back such deals, oppose moving major legislation during lame-duck sessions. "If we can't get it done before the election, then we ought to get it done when the new Congress is seated," Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told the Washington Examiner.
Furthermore, particular details of the agreement could also cause TPP to lose votes in the House and the Senate. "As Speaker Ryan has stated for months, there are problems that remain with the administration's TPP deal, and there can be no movement before these concerns are addressed," AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said Friday.
Of course, Sessions won't be wooed by changes to the deal, which he says establishes "an international commission with the power to act around Congress," comprised of representatives from each of the countries in the deal. "It allows 12 nations, some with less than 1 percent of the GDP of the United States, an equal vote in the TPP Commission," he said. "The proposed TPP agreement cannot be fixed by a few cosmetic changes. It cannot be patched and saved. The American people are on to that trick. The TPP is a failed agreement. It must be rejected."