GOP tries to quell immigration fears over trade bill

May 2, 2015 4:13 PM by CBS News

Amid conservative dread that ongoing trade negotiations would lead to more executive power over immigration policies, the Republican Party is pushing to clarify just what a "fast-track" trade promotion authority (TPA) bill would mean for the everyman.

"It is about creating more jobs for the American people and helping hardworking American families," Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson said Saturday in a video address pushing for the fast-track legislation. "Raising the prosperity of the American people is the best way to raise revenue while also raising hope and opportunity. This trade promotion authority legislation does precisely that."

The TPA bill -- the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 -- will soon be up for a vote in the Senate. It would give Congress the ability to set objectives for any international deals the White House negotiates. The "fast track" legislation would also allow Congress a yes-or-no vote on any future trade deal, though it would prevent the deliberative body from proposing any amendments.

President Obama, for his part, has been actively advocating for the "fast-track" trade legislation. TPA will come to a vote ahead of the White House's final negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, involving the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries, now years in the making.

The president's backing of the bill has made it enough of a contentious issue that several conservatives are questioning if TPA would significantly expand executive powers.

"Trade promotion authority does not give any president any new authority to expand immigration or change other laws," Isakson said, "without the approval of the Congress of the United States."

"Every trade agreement will still be scrutinized by your representatives and by the senators in Congress," the George Republican reiterated in his address. "Republicans will not support any attempt to override U.S. law by sneaking extra provisions into any trade agreement -- that includes provisions on immigration policies."

But others in the Democratic Party -- as well as newly announced presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont -- vehemently oppose the legislation. Because the bill would only allow Congress an up-or-down vote on international deals -- instead of granting it power to change the terms of the deals -- critics say it limits the deliberative body's power to fight on behalf of American workers.

Isakson appealed to voters in his home state of Georgia, where he sites that over one million jobs are "directly related" to international trade. The Republican senator added that the state's exports to overseas trading partners grew by 69 percent over the last decade.

"This is going to ensure that America -- not China or any other country -- is at the forefront of writing the global rules of economy and trade in the world," he said.

In his own address, the president focused on the White House's education initiatives and previewed his upcoming commencement address at a school in South Dakota.

"In a global economy, we've got to help ensure that everyone, of every age, in every zip code - urban and rural - has the chance to learn the skills that lead directly to a good job," Mr. Obama said Saturday in a video.

The president touted new programs in his ConnectED initiative, which emphasizes digital connectivity and learning for schools across America. One of these programs, a partnership between libraries and major publishers to provide free ebooks for low-income students, was announced earlier this week while the president visited a Washington, D.C., library.

He also championed his plan to make two years of community college free for every American student.

"A great education is the ticket to a better life," Mr. Obama said. "Making sure all our kids receive one is the surest way to show them that their lives matter."

"Because no matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you've got, you should be able to access the world's knowledge and information just like anyone else."

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