MN Dems pivot, support worker trade assistance

After voting en masse against a trade bill just two weeks ago, Minnesota House Democrats have changed their tune on the issue.

At issue is an assistance bill for workers displaced by international trade, a package of policies that Democrats have long supported.

So earlier this month, when Minnesota's entire DFL delegation voted against the bill, it appeared to be out of step with the group's typical agenda.

But the vote was partly one of protest and political strategy.

"Trade adjustment assistance" was attached to legislation that boosted President Barack Obama's larger trade agenda, and Democrats hoped to scuttle Obama's latest effort under pressure from unions fighting a looming trade deal with an array of countries in the Pacific.

The Senate approved trade promotion authority earlier this week, clearing the way for Obama's trade agenda, and leaving House Democrats with little political power to stop the effort.

The worker assistance bill was also paired with the extension of a popular African trade program.

Minnesota Democrats voting for the bill include: 1st District Rep. Tim Walz, 4th District Rep. Betty McCollum, 5th District Rep. Keith Ellison, 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson and 8th District Rep. Rick Nolan.

Even though Ellison voted for the worker assistance, he continued to object to the larger trade deal.

"We do need trade adjustment assistance," Ellison said on the House floor. "If this Trans-Pacific Partnership is anything like the trade bills we've seen so far, we're going to need a way bigger trade adjustment assistance than this."

Walz spokesman Tony Ufkin said that Walz has always supported the goal of worker assistance, but couldn't vote in favor of it while it was attached to Obama's broader trade agenda, which Walz opposes.

"[Trade promotion authority] is bad enough," Ufkin said. "It would be worse without trade adjustment assistance."

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