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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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April 11, 2008 5:37 PM

Washington Dems unsure of Colombia trade deal

Posted by David Postman

Democrats in Washington’s Congressional delegation run from cold to lukewarm on the pending trade deal with Colombia. I wrote yesterday about Republican support for the deal, and efforts to get House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to schedule a vote on the agreement.

But even among Democrats with pro-trade credentials, the Colombia deal is finding only the weakest support. And it is being seen from some corners as an important showdown with President Bush.

Sen. Patty Murray has voted for every free trade agreement that has come to the Senate since she took office, said her spokeswoman, Alex Glass. On Colombia, Glass said:

She does have some serious concerns surrounding Colombia, but a decision has not yet been made.

Sen. Maria Cantwell wants to see Trade Adjustment Assistance expanded and has concerns about the specifics of the Colombia deal, said spokeswoman Ciaran Clayton:

Columbia must do more with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other international organizations to improve protection of human rights and the rule of law. Colombia has made some progress in this area but more must be done.

In the House, Seattle Rep. Jim McDermott, who visited Colombia last fall, said in a statement that President Bush knew that a vote on the deal was predicated on expanding trade assistance.

He tried to jam it down our throats, which is typical Bush bullying. He doesn’t know how to negotiate and he thinks he still has a Republican rubber-stamp Congress. Those days are gone.

Rep. Norm Dicks of Bremerton thinks the Colombia deal was improved last year, and he generally supports free trade agreement. But, said spokesman George Behan,

Norm has stated to our leadership and others that he is "undecided" on Columbia, and he was supportive of the rule change yesterday that postponed House consideration of the bill. Bush's referral of the FTA this week was a merely a way to play politics with the issue, and Speaker Pelosi found a way within the law to use the issue as leverage at a time when he has been intransigent on EVERY major congressional priority. The reality (which Bush has to admit) is that Columbia FTA would have likely been defeated this week if Pelosi brought it to a vote. If he (and Hastings, Reichert, really wants Columbia FTA, they are better off if it is postponed and considered later. Either way, we think the protest is a little hollow, and this is a great example of Congress demonstrating that it is a co-equal branch.

Tacoma Rep. Adam Smith is “leaning in favor,” said spokesman Derrick Crowe.

He still has some reservations, mainly centered around questions as to how well Colombia is protecting their labor organizers. But, were the trade agreement to pass, we’d have more leverage against any violations since labor protections are included in the core of the agreement. He’s still trying to learn as much as he can.

Bainbridge Island Rep. Jay Inslee’s spokeswoman, Christine Clapp, said the congressman did not yet have a position on the agreement. She said he was “still considering the merits and flaws of the agreement.”

I haven’t been able to connect with Rep. Brian Baird of Vancouver or Rep. Rick Larsen of Lake Stevens. But I’ll add their thoughts Monday.

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