Nancy Pelosi Plays Hardball With Bush on the Colombian Trade Deal

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Creeping lame-duckism?

Nancy Pelosi has just announced that she will call for a change in the rules tomorrow to prevent a vote on the Colombia trade deal that President Bush sent to the Hill yesterday–in violation, congressional leaders say, of a deal they had to negotiate some other issues first, including Trade Adjustment Assistance and some economic stimulus measures. (This comes a day after the Senate failed to reauthorize the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, letting it expire because Republicans were insisting on a unrelated measure involving the Federal Aviation Administration trust fund.)

Bush has contended that Congress must vote on the deal, negotiated before fast-track authority expired, within 90 legislative days. Pelosi’s read, her spokesman Brendan Daly says, is that she can alter that timeline with a change in House rules, possibly putting it off indefinitely. The trade deal is important to Bush, as part of his economic legacy. But the prerogatives of Congress are just as important to Pelosi.

The lesson here: “Don’t mess with Nancy Pelosi,” says Daly.

His boss, it should be noted, phrases it a little more delicately: “The President took his action.  I will take mine tomorrow.”

UPDATE: A fuller story, with GOP reaction, from Roll Call. You can read it after the jump.

Pelosi to Stop the Clock on Colombia Trade Deal

By Jennifer Bendery
Roll Call Staff

Wednesday, April 9, 2008; 12:24 pm

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday will seek to change House rules to circumvent the 90-day timetable for taking up the Colombia free-trade agreement.

The highly unusual move, made after a meeting of the Democratic Caucus, effectively allows Democrats to punt on the controversial trade pact until after the November elections.

“We will choose tomorrow to remove the timeline from the consideration of the Colombia free-trade agreement,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday.

The Speaker said the rules change doesn’t necessarily mean a vote on the pact will be postponed until after November, explaining that its progress “depends on the good faith” of lawmakers involved in negotiations.

Pelosi noted that the move is “in keeping with the rules,” but it could be unprecedented to stop the clock on trade agreements under special procedures known as “fast track” that give Congress 90 days to consider a deal once the president transmits it.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) explained that it will take a simple majority to make the rules change.

“We’re taking what’s implicit and making it explicit. The Speaker calls the bill,” said Emanuel, meaning that Pelosi has the authority to make the move.

Bush sparked the hostile reaction from Pelosi when he opted to send the trade agreement to the Hill on Monday despite the Speaker’s recommendation against it.

Earlier on Wednesday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the Democratic move “cheap, pure and simple.”