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U.S. House may vote on ‘fast-track’ Thursday -McCarthy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives might try again on Thursday to advance legislation granting President Barack Obama “fast track” trade negotiating authority, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Reuters on Wednesday.

In a brief hallway interview, McCarthy would not provide specifics, but said it “could be possible” the controversial trade legislation would be on the House floor on Thursday.

Minutes later, the White House said Obama will meet on Wednesday with pro-trade Senate and House Democrats.

Last Friday, the House narrowly backed fast-track, or trade promotion authority, for Obama to help him finish negotiations on a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal.

However, the House overwhelmingly rejected another portion of that legislation renewing an aid program for U.S. workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade deals.

When asked whether new legislation would simply provide fast-track negotiating authority for Obama with separate legislation on worker aid, McCarthy said: “Wait and see. We’ll put it all out there” for the public to see.

At the White House, Obama administration spokesman Josh Earnest said the president is open to a legislative strategy that separates fast-track from worker aid, as long as both issues make it to his desk to be signed into law.

Earnest said Obama and top White House officials discussed strategies by telephone in a series of calls with Republicans and Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday morning.

“The only legislative strategy that the president can support is one that will result in both pieces of legislation arriving at his desk,” Earnest said.

Lawmakers must determine “whether or not they have to arrive at the same time, on the same day, as part of the same legislative vehicle or separately,” Earnest said at a briefing.

Obama and free-trade backers in Congress thought they had a winning strategy last week when they brought a Senate-passed bill to the House floor containing both fast track, backed by Republicans, and worker aid, which Democrats want.

The strategy backfired, however, after the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labor organization, urged Democrats to reverse course and oppose worker aid as a way of defeating fast track.

Labor and environmental groups argue that fast track will speed free-trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership that have too few protections for workers and the environment.

Under fast-track authority, the president can negotiate trade agreements knowing Congress can approve or reject the deals, but not amend them.

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