Saying he was likely committing “political suicide” by supporting fast track trade legislation coming up for a vote soon in Congress, U.S. Representative Ami Bera defended his position in a tense meeting with angry constituents in his California District office on Wednesday.
Bera told the crowd of about 18 Labor, environmental and community activists that he understood they felt “betrayed” and “disappointed” by his promised vote in favor of fast track authority. But added that he remained committed to supporting President Barack Obama’s bid to streamline the approval process of trade agreements, including the controversial and secretive Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which could be the first deal approved under fast track.
Bera, a sophomore member of the House of Representatives for Elk Grove, California, won a hotly contested re-election race last fall by little more than 1,700 votes. In the final weeks of the campaign, union members backing Bera canvassed key neighborhoods knocking on doors and manning phone banks asking for Democratic support for the physician-turned-lawmaker – a turning point that Bera himself said aided his victory.
“I don’t quite get his calculation, why he’s going this way,” said Angie Wei, chief of staff for the California Labor Federation and one of those invited to the meeting with Bera. “Just like everybody here, I walked for this guy. We were proud to be on those doorsteps saying Ami Bera is back in D.C. protecting our jobs. We can’t say that now. We’ve lost all our interest in defending this guy. We want to fight for people fighting for us, not people who turn their backs.”
Others in attendance echoed Wei’s sentiment that Bera was cutting ties with labor and other progressive voters.
Junior Romero, Northern California Associate Representive for the Sierra Club, said “Congressman Bera was one of our top priorities but of course he’s betrayed the environment and working families of Sacramento County and all across the country by supporting fast track.”
The hastily-called meeting came a few days after Bera was accused of plagiarism for an op-ed published in the Sacramento Bee outlining why he is supporting fast track. Buzzfeed.com pointed out similarities in language between Bera’s piece and talking points from business roundtable Third Way and the White House. Bera apologized for the piece, saying in a statement to the Bee, “after an internal review of our editing process, it has become clear that widely used and disseminated statements made their way into the final draft, and for that I apologize.”
At the meeting, Bera also stressed that his support of fast track did not mean he would vote in favor of the TPP. He said he was reviewing the available portions of that trade agreement carefully and welcomed input from constituents on their areas of concern.
However, Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 9421 legislative director Robert Longer, who arranged the meeting, said that fast track authority was directly tied to the TPP. He pointed out that with fast track authority in place, Congress would be unable to amend any trade deal, only vote in favor or against the entire package.
“They are integrally related,” said Longer. “A fair minded person would have to acknowledge that basic tenet, that by doing this you then legally remove yourself from that process and then the President just sends it back to you and you can’t change anything, you can’t do anything… It’s a BS argument to try to separate the two. They are one in the same.”