The US House of Representatives has rejected a key trade bill pushed by Barack Obama, giving a severe blow to the US president's trade agenda aimed at strengthening ties with Asia-Pacific nations.
In a dramatic vote, Obama's own Democrats, as well as Republicans, failed to produce enough support to approve a bill that would have given aid to workers who lose their jobs as a result of US trade deals with other countries.
The measure was soundly rejected in a 302-126 vote.
It's a very serious blow, it confirms the fact that he is a lame-duck, that's America phrase for president who cannot run for re-election again. Therefore, he has very little clout even in his own party.
That was quickly followed by the House's narrow approval of a separate measure to give Obama "fast-track" authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. But the legislation is stuck in the House because of the defeat Obama and House Speaker John Boehner suffered on the first vote.
A House Republican aide told reporters that Republican leaders hope to try again on Tuesday to pass the worker aid portion of the bill, allowing the measure to be signed into law by Obama, but its chances were unclear.
Bill Schneider, a public policy professor at George Mason University, told Al Jazeera that this is a serious blow for President Obama.
"It's a very serious blow, it confirms the fact that he is a lame-duck, that's America phrase for president who cannot run for re-election again. Therefore, he has very little clout even in his own party," he said.
"In the US politicians are in business for themselves, they are independent political entrepreneurs. If the president is a member of their party they will support him but only if they think it will do them good, and oppose their own president if they think it's going to hurt them," Schneider said.
"And in this case many of them were threatened by opposition from organised labour, one of the key sources of support for Democrats. They decided to defy their own president which just weakens his position for the remainder of the term."
Trading partners such as Japan have urged the US Congress to act in order to help wrap up a Pacific Rim trade deal covering 40 percent of the world's economy.
Obama had lobbied hard to win over sceptical Democrats and forged an unusual alliance with the Republicans who control Congress and made a last-ditch personal appeal to congressional Democrats to back his trade agenda on Friday.
"Democrats have always been suspicious of trade deals because they think they cost American jobs, and they do. They cost jobs for a lot of lower wage workers and the vote today was to provide parallel assistance to those workers," Schneider said.
"But they knew that if they approved that bill to provide federal assistance that would lead to a passage of authority to the president to negotiate the trade deal."
Robust debate took place on the House floor before the vote. Lawmakers took turns voicing their views on the controversial provisions of the Obama administration's trade proposals.
"Make no mistake about it, this is a race to the bottom. The time has come for Congress to say no to this agreement" said Representative Rick Nolan from Minnesota.
House Speaker John Boehner said it was important for the US to be a leader on the trade issue.
"When America leads, the world is safer, for freedom and free enterprise. And when we don't lead, we're allowing and frankly, essentially, inviting China to right on setting the rules of the world economy, and what that does is keep our workers and our products on the sideline," Boehner said.
Source: Al Jazeera And Reuters