If the White House loses Rep. Adam Smith’s vote on trade, it could be for the simplest of all reasons: no one asked for it.
On Tuesday morning, the lanky, balding Washington Democrat was identified by The Hill, a newspaper for congressional insiders, as one of the 10 lawmakers to watch when the House votes on fast-track trade authority for President Obama.
That’s because Smith, a free-trader at times in the past, has watched his district grown more heavily Democratic through redistricting. He has concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership — the deal that would be set in motion if Congress agrees to fast-track power — including its funding level for federal subsidies to retrain workers affected by trade.
He’s an obvious target for a White House eager to scrounge up the last votes for fast-track authority, which Republican officials say is likely to be on the House floor by the end of this week. And yet Smith said in a brief interview that the Obama team isn’t knocking down his door.
"As of this hour, nobody from the White House has called me and directly asked me to vote for it," he said as he walked through the lobby outside the House chamber Tuesday evening.
That’s not to say the administration lost his number. Labor Secretary Tom Perez spoke with him last week about worker-protection provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and David Simas, the White House political director, called several weeks ago to talk trade.
Smith didn’t seem upset by the lack of contact — some lawmakers would prefer not to be cajoled or browbeaten over their votes — but it’s hard to understand why the White House whip list wouldn’t include a lawmaker who says he’s genuinely undecided at this point.
So far, Obama’s main tactic has been to tell Democrats that he’ll provide them political cover if they vote with him on trade. That is, if labor unions and progressive voters come after them in their next election, he’ll vouch for them. He’s even got a rewards program: a trip on Air Force One.
Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly said riding with Obama on a trip to Germany earlier this week was a "very visible symbol of that commitment."
Maybe just a call from the president or a top aide would sway Smith, maybe not. It’s surprising that he hasn’t been pleaded with or pushed. A White House official told Vox they would look into it, but didn’t return with an explanation.
Maybe, Smith ventured, the White House assumes he’s on board because he has backed some past trade agreements, including those with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. Asked whether that was a good assumption, he offered a one-word response: "No."
UPDATE: An administration official e-mails with this
While I don’t have any individual calls or meetings to readout to you at the moment, the President has spoken regularly with members of Congress, including members of both parties and leadership as well as rank-and-file members, to discuss TPA and TPP. In conjunction with direct engagement from the President, his cabinet has been out there making the case for why these trade deals will benefit a wide range of American workers and businesses, including more than 130 trade-related events in at least 35 states. Events have taken a number of forms, including roundtables with Members, business leaders, and/or stakeholders; meetings with CEOs, trade associations, and small businesses; and site visits to companies that export and otherwise benefit from trade. In addition, USTR has held over 1,700 briefings with members on trade since the beginning of the administration.