Durbin, Kirk, split over ‘fast track’ for Asia-Pacific trade bill

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U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk during news conference in 2013. | John H. White/For Sun-Times Media

The Illinois senators split on advancing “fast track authority” for a controversial trade bill heavily pushed by President Barack Obama. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican, voted yes and Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, voted no on Thursday.

The issue has put the Obama White House at odds with many Democrats in the House and Senate — including members of the Illinois delegation.

The Trade Promotion Authority, the name of the fast track measure, advanced on a 62-38 roll call that ended debate, with only two votes to spare. Fast track allows apresident to negotiate trade agreements with other countries, in this case, the Trans-Pacific Partnership package, then send the deal to Congress for approval on an expedited basis.

Among those on Capitol Hill lobbying senators for fast track: Chicago-basedBoeingCEOJimMcNerney. McNerney has contributed to both Durbin and Kirk, according to FEC records.

Durbin said in a statement, “the debate over free trade agreements is an important one with compelling arguments on both sides. My first priority as a senator from Illinois, however, is keeping and growing jobs in our state, and too often these trade deals end up luring American jobs overseas.

“The truth is, we can and should expand trade, but we must also expand opportunity in America at the same time. The irony of this vote is that it formally ended debate on a bill that would limit the authority of the Senate to debate and amend these trade deals. We owe workers in Illinois and across the country a full, open, and honest debate over such critical legislation.”

The yes vote puts Kirk, up for re-election in 2016, on the side of much of mainstream Illinois GOP political establishment. So far, no Republican challenger has surfaced to run against Kirk in the March GOP Senate primary.

While House members have left for a long Memorial Day holiday, senators find themselves still at work on Friday, dealing with the trade agreement, a highway bill and NSA’s surveillance program.

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