WASHINGTON — Amid opposition from top Democrats, President Bush said Monday that he is sending to Congress a free trade agreement with Colombia that he urged lawmakers to approve.
The decision by Bush, who said the pact would help stabilize the region, sets the stage for a contentious debate and vote on Capitol Hill in the heat of the presidential campaign.
Congress has 90 days to consider the legislation under special trade negotiating rules that require an up-or-down vote and do not allow amendments. The Colombian accord was negotiated before Congress decided last year not to renew Bush's trade promotion authority.
"This agreement will advance America's national security interests in a critical region," Bush said at a news conference in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. "It will strengthen a courageous ally in our hemisphere. It will help America's economy and America's workers at a vital time. It deserves bipartisan support from the United States Congress."
Democratic congressional leaders have repeatedly warned the Bush administration not to send the Colombia pact to Capitol Hill, arguing that the Colombian government has failed to do enough to halt assassinations and kidnappings of trade unionists. They also have urged implementing an overhaul of a program that helps retrain workers who lose their jobs because of international trade before the Colombia deal is considered.
In addition, opponents contend the agreements would result in the loss of U.S. jobs. Proponents say it would open a new market for U.S. goods.
The debate over the proposed agreement has created upheaval in the campaign for the White House.
Mark Penn, chief strategist for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.), stepped down Sunday after the Wall Street Journal reported he met with the Colombian ambassador to the U.S. to discuss promoting the trade deal, which is opposed by Clinton. Penn is chief executive officer of Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm that represented the government of Colombia in its effort to have the trade deal ratified by Congress.
The President also is seeking congressional approval of free trade pacts with South Korea and Panama.
Apparel importers that shipped $419 million worth of products made in Colombia to the U.S. in the past 12 months, and textile producers that export millions of dollars of fabrics and yarns to the country, have called on Congress to pass a bilateral trade deal with Colombia to make the duty free benefits permanent. They are now temporary under a regional Andean trade pact that needs periodic renewal.UNITE HERE, the apparel industry's main union, vigorously opposes the Colombian trade agreement and has vowed to work for its defeat.
"It is outrageous," said Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE. "In the middle of a time when American workers can't afford to put gas in their cars to go to work, Bush would send an agreement to Congress that will further reduce American jobs."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Rep Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) criticized the President, saying: "His unprecedented decision to send a free trade agreement to Congress without following established protocols of congressional consultation is counterproductive, jeopardizing prospects for its passage."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said the President is pressing for congressional action "under circumstances that maximize the chances it will fail" because of opposition from the Democratic majority in Congress.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told reporters that prospects for the agreement in Congress were good because there were Republicans and Democrats who recognized it was important for U.S. economic interests and for national security.
"When we send up a trade agreement, we never know, quite frankly, how it's going to play, but no Congress has ever defeated a trade agreement," Schwab said.
My character, Dinah Madani, is just the coolest, [most] badass woman imaginable," says @amberroserevah. The actress stars in @marvel's newest series on @netflix, @thepunisher. To prepare for her role, Revah sat down with Homeland agents to get a real sense of with Dinah's day-to-day life is really like. Read our full interview on WWD.com. #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
A scene from the 91st annual @macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade, which boasts 50 million TV viewers and 3.5 million on-site spectators, is considered one of the largest and most watched parades in the world. (📷: Jason Szenes/EPA-REX)
The circus came to @bloomingdales 59th Street on Tuesday night and lit up Lexington Avenue with acrobatic dancers, death-defying knife throwing, sword swallowing and aerial acts with no net. The 45 minutes of theatrics built up to unveiling the holiday windows depicting @swarovski crystal-encrusted circus pieces and scenes from “The Greatest Showman” – songs from the soundtrack included. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Joshua Scott)
The psychedelic fashion that pervaded the ’60s is back with an exhibit at the @museumofcityny. “Mode New York: Fashion Takes a Trip” chronicles the changing styles from 1960 through 1973 and features designers such as @ysl, @oscardelarenta and more. The exhibition, which is on display through April 1, is organized into four periods: First Lady Fasion, Youthquake, New Bohemia and New Nonchalance. Pictured here is model Pat Bardonella during the Garvey Day Parade in 1968. (📷: @kwamebphoto) #wwdeye #wwdfashion
“People should be a lot more honest in expressing both the dark and light of themselves. We need to give each other the space to do that because it’s the only way we can grow and evolve,” says @noelwells of her new film “Mr. Roosevelt,” which is largely based on her own struggles. Unexpectedly leaving @nbcsnl in 2014 after just one season, Wells felt set back in her self-esteem and career trajectory. She quickly refocused her energy to more personal projects, which led to the completion of “Mr. Roosevelt.” Read the rest of WWD’s interview with the “Master of None” actress on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
@barbrastreisand is giving fans a chance to see her perform up close in a new concert series, which makes its debut on @Netflix today. From behind-the-scenes takes to her concert performance in Miami last December, the two-hour streaming special captures Streisand in her element. Pictured here is the singer/actress photographed for WWD in 1963. (📷: Palmieri Tony) #wwdeye #wwdarchive
@chanel and @pharrell dropped what’s being dubbed as the world’s most exclusive sneakers yesterday. The Adidas Originals NMD Hu, which Williams designed in collaboration with Chanel and @adidasoriginals, has a waiting list of over 120K people who pre-registered online at chanelatcolette.fr –– and only 500 pairs are on sale. The singer predicted the resale value of the shoes could reach $40K. Read the full interview on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdfashion (📷: Dominique Maître)
@imanshumpert is diving deeper into his creative endeavors and relaunching his clothing line, Post 90s, and is helping to raise money for the hurricane victims in St. Maarten with a jersey he’s designed with his brother. The Cleveland Cavaliers player talked to WWD about kneeling during the national anthem, working with fashion brands and how he wants to be more than an @nba player. Read the interview on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)