Reid, the Senate majority leader, said Wednesday that he opposed fast-track authority and that lawmakers should not push for it now — a comment suggesting that legislation introduced three weeks ago will go nowhere soon.
The Obama administration's Asia policy has been welcomed by countries wary of China's rise and expansive territorial claims. During the president's first term, the U.S. made progress in strengthening old alliances with nations like the Philippines, forging deeper ties with Indonesia and Vietnam and befriending former pariah state Myanmar.
There were missteps. Angry politics at home forced Obama to withdraw from the East Asia Summit last fall, raising some questions about his commitment to the region. New military deployments in the Asia-Pacific — a few hundred Marines in Australia, new warships rotated through Singapore — have fueled Chinese accusations of a U.S. policy of containment while making little impact on regional security.
Asia got little mention in Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday, adding to perceptions in some quarters that the pivot has dropped in the administration's policy agenda in the president's second term.
But he did urge both parties in Congress to approve fast-track legislation needed to make the TPP and a trade deal under negotiation with Europe a reality, saying it would open new markets and create American jobs.
While that legislation is co-sponsored by a senior Democrat — Obama's nominee to become the next ambassador to China, Sen. Max Baucus — many in the party join with labor unions in opposing lowered trade barriers, which they worry will cost jobs due to increased competition.
But top Republicans who want fast-track authority accuse the administration of failing to do its part to mobilize support for it among Democrats in Congress — a task that will be complicated by the midterm elections in November. Lawmakers will be careful to avoid measures that could hurt their prospects of re-election.