Despite a last-minute personal appeal by President Obama, House Democrats delivered a stinging defeat to his initiative to create a Pacific Rim free trade zone by derailing an essential element of the deal critics labeled as "anti-LGBTQ."
The House voted 302 to 126 to sink a measure to grant financial aid to workers displaced by global trade -- a policy that The New York Times points out was created by Democrats and has stood for four decades.
In doing so, the Democrats killed the chances that the House would grant the president the power to negotiate trade deals that Congress cannot amend or filibuster, a process coloquially called "fast-track."
"I will be voting to slow down fast-track," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on the floor moments before the vote, after keeping her intentions private for months. "Today we have an opportunity to slow down. Whatever the deal is with other countries, we want a better deal for American workers."
TheWashington Post notes that this dramatic defeat could sink the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, a sweeping free trade and regulatory pact that Obama has called central to his economic agenda at home and his foreign policy strategy in Asia. The paper said Obama invested significant personal credibility and political capital in the months-long lobbying blitz.
Republican leaders, who had backed the president's trade initiative, pleaded with their colleagues to support the deal or risk watching the United States lose economic ground in Asia.
Rea Carey, National Executive Director of the LGBTQ Task Force, issued a statement hailing the move by the House Democrats:
"Thank you Congress for standing up for transparency and continued dialogue on the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. The TPP poses a real threat to good paying US-based jobs, access to affordable life-saving medicine including HIV treatment, and the work to advance freedom, justice, and equality for LGBTQ people.
"Among our concerns with the TPP is opening up business with governments that have egregious laws criminalizing LGBTQ people. The TPP calls for doing business with countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, where anyone perceived to be LGBTQ faces the threat of imprisonment, or Brunei, where LGBTQ people can be sentenced to death simply because of who they are.
"We are also concerned about how the trade agreement would affect the US workforce--millions of good paying jobs could be lost and relocated in countries with a track record of human rights violations. Additionally, PhRMA member companies could refuse to provide affordable generic versions of HIV medication to people living with HIV in economically disadvantaged communities abroad. This trade agreement would be a huge step backwards in the fight to eradicate HIV/AIDS and the work toward full equality for LGBTQ people."
The pact's implications for LGBT people were the subject of controversy. Eight of the nation's most powerful out leaders, including ambassadors and an envoy to the State Department, this week collaborated on an op-ed to argue that the pact would "promote greater justice beyond our borders" and export our values of equality and tolerance.
But also this week, our sibling site HIV Plus reported that the TPP had "horrified" the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, would dramatically reduce global access to HIV drugs, and would embrace nations that threaten the very lives of their LGBT citizens. In fact, reports say five out LGBT members of Congress objected to the inclusion of Malaysia and Brunei in the TPP deal.
Jerame Davis, executive director of Pride at Work, the LGBT labor organization that has led the LGBT response against the TPP, teamed up with Cleve Jones, the founder of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, to write a response to the ambassadors endorsement of the trade pact. Their op-ed in the The Advocate said that if TPP is enacted, "we will see further slippage of human rights for LGBT people around the globe."
Read the complete HIV Plus report on the TPP by clicking here.