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Outlook murky for Obama's trade pact in Congress, Clinton weighs in

President Barack Obama speaks to Nike Employees and other Oregonians at Nike Headquarters on May 8, 2015, in Beaverton, Oregon. Obama spoke about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pacts which include the U.S. in a trade agreement with 11 other nations.

[WASHINGTON] Hopes of reviving the White House's drive for a Pacific trade pact looked increasingly uncertain on Monday as no clear path forward for it in Congress emerged and presidential contender Hillary Clinton said her fellow Democrats' concerns with the pact were legitimate.

House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said key legislation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement only needed to be handled by the end of summer, with no date nailed down for further action in Congress.

President Barack Obama's own Democrats derailed his push for authority to speed trade deals through Congress on Friday, casting doubt on the 12-nation TPP central to the administration's pivot to Asia.

Although Republicans, who control Congress, kept open the option of scheduling a repeat vote on Tuesday, Mr McCarthy said no decisions had been made about how to proceed.

He declined to outline options being considered by House Republican leaders, other than putting the same legislation up for another vote.

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Asked by a reporter when the trade bill must be completed by the House, Mr McCarthy responded: "I think before the summer's out you've got to have it done, and I think each week that goes on may make it a little more difficult."

Lawmakers on Friday voted in favor of giving Mr Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the trade bill, but rejected a companion measure that would extend government support for US workers who lose their jobs due to trade, blocking the full package from proceeding.

Time is running out to secure fast-track authority, which restricts lawmakers to a yes-or-no vote on trade deals, and wrap up the TPP pact so it can pass Congress this year, before 2016 presidential elections begin to dominate the political and policy agenda.

Former Secretary of State Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, said on Monday that Mr Obama should use lawmakers' unwillingness to advance the trade package as leverage to win changes to the TPP and build more support for it.

"One of the ways the president could get fast-track authority is to deal with the legitimate concerns of those Democrats who are potential 'yes' voters to see what's in the negotiation ... (that) could be modified or changed," she told reporters in Concord, New Hampshire.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration was working to "help Democrats and Republicans on the Hill figure this out," but was not pushing any particular legislative solution.

Mr Obama put in a phone call to House Speaker John Boehner on Monday, Mr Earnest said. The president also spent the weekend playing golf, hosting a private concert with singer Prince and attending a dance recital featuring one of his daughters.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. She voted no on both key parts of the trade bill on Friday. "The president continues to be confident that we will navigate this particular procedural snafu and move this across the finish line," Mr Earnest said.


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