Rep. John Delaney, the former financier and two-term lawmaker from Montgomery County, was one of 28 House Democrats on Friday to support granting fast-track authority for the controversial Pacific Rim trade deal -- a vote fraught with politics for members of both parties.
Delaney, whose 6th Congressional District has a higher share of Republican voters than any other in the state, was the only member of Maryland's House delegation to support President Barack Obama's trade effort, which remains in limbo after a series of high-profile votes on Friday.
Democrats have long been wary of trade agreements, which set policies on tariffs, quotas and other trade barriers. Opponents, including powerful labor unions, argue trade deals ship jobs overseas to countries with less stringent labor standards.
All of the state's other Democratic House members -- as well as Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County -- opposed the bill. Although the House approved the measure, a procedural road block means the bill will not advance to the White House unless Congress takes another vote next week.
"I support giving President Obama the ability to negotiate and complete new trade agreements with some of the fastest growing economies in the world," Delaney said in a statement after the vote.
"I want our country and this president setting the terms on trade, not China. Getting trade policy right is huge for our economy and huge for Maryland. This is about creating Maryland jobs by selling Maryland products to Asia, moving right from Western Maryland farms out through the Port of Baltimore."
Delaney has a record of casting centrist votes in the House, and he has also long had an uneasy relationship with labor, despite touting the importance of unions prominently in his campaign ads. In that sense his vote was not a surprise.
Delaney on Friday lamented the failure of a concurrent bill that would have expanded the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to help workers displaced by trade agreements.
Still, anyone who thinks Delaney's trade vote won't come up in future elections hasn't been paying attention to the Senate race unfolding in Maryland to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
In that race, Rep. Donna F. Edwards of Prince George's County has been using past labor votes against her opponent for the Democratic nomination, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County. Van Hollen has supported some trade agreements and opposed others. The state's labor unions, meanwhile, have been aggressively pressing the delegation to oppose the bill.
Delaney is still considering a run for Senate, and he is widely believed to also be eyeing a run for governor in 2018.
But how much of an issue anyone would be able to make of the vote remains to be seen. Another potential candidate for governor, U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, has also stated his support for the trade bill as a member of Obama's Cabinet.
"The action today by the House to approve the Trade Promotion Authority bill is an important step forward in our efforts to negotiate the most progressive trade agreement in our nation's history," Perez said in a statement Friday.
Trade is one of the only areas where the Obama administration has been in sync with a majority of House Republicans, most of whom supported the bill Friday. Supporters see the agreements as a way to increase access for U.S. goods in overseas markets. The trade promotion authority bill technically did not constitute support for the trade agreement itself, but rather set the agreement up for an up-or-down vote in Congress, free from amendments.
But Obama has argued that fast-track authority is critical to negotiating a good deal.
That argument, however, did not persuade Harris, who bucked GOP leaders and voted with a small group of conservatives against the measure.
"Today, I voted against the… 'fast-track' process to grant President Obama Trade Promotional Authority," Harris said in a statement. "My constituents spoke loud and clear with their opposition to TPA and there is nothing that is more important to me than representing the views of those in Maryland’s First District."