Wyden zips among issues, colleagues, re-election bid

May 15, 2015, 5:54 AM
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in his office on Capito...
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 13, 2015. Wyden is playing a leading role in some of Congress' toughest debates. The three-term senator is the chief Democratic negotiator on trade legislation that would allow President Barack Obama to negotiate an historic accord with 11 Pacific Rim nations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Running flat out for a new term at home and tiptoeing through tough issues in the Capitol, Ron Wyden brags that he’s “different, like Oregon.”

Not everyone sees that as a good thing, though, at least in the Senate. In the space of just a few hours this week, Wyden managed to offend Republicans and Democrats alike over legislation he co-authored permitting President Barack Obama to cut “fast-track” trade deals that Congress could approve or reject, but not change.

It’s part of Wyden’s effort to show he’s for trade, against government intrusion and pragmatic — even if it means embarrassing his president, irking his colleagues and angering labor and environmental groups back home. As the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Wyden is at the center of the debate.

“Wyden trying to pull a fast one on fast track,” blared the headline of a recent Oregon AFL-CIO newsletter.

“Save the Internet, Stop Fast Track,” read a 30-foot blimp by a company called Fight for the Future that flew over the senator’s town hall meeting last month.

Wyden acknowledges the hubbub and shrugs it off.

“It comes with the territory,” he said this week, hurrying from the Capitol to his office nearby. “I’m a big guy.”

Six-foot-four, to be exact — tall enough to play Division I basketball in college. Instead of a sports career, he opted for law school and politics. At 66, Wyden is a 35-year veteran of the House and Senate, facing re-election to a full fourth term amid a dizzying array of other details. He’s a father of five — including twin 7-year-olds and a toddler — a cancer survivor and a key negotiator on tax policy, privacy law, health care policy and trade.

“Some days I look at him and I know he’s got to be tired,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.

What’s high-energy and a “wide bandwidth” to some is considered frenetic and unpredictable by others in the Senate. But no one doubts that Wyden commands an unusually large portfolio of high-profile legislation or that his brand of pragmatism can be effective.

Wyden, from his post on the finance panel, is his party’s chief negotiator of trade legislation that would allow Obama to negotiate trade deals, such as an historic accord with 11 Pacific Rim nations.

And should Senate Republicans try next week to extend the Patriot Act’s expiring spying powers, Wyden says he’ll try to block the effort with a filibuster.

If he does, little love would be lost between him and majority Republicans, who spent the week openly questioning Wyden’s credibility. A dozen Democrats who support the legislation weren’t happy, either. On the brink of Senate action, they let Wyden know they would vote against it — unless Republicans agreed to demands on other measures that would give them political cover with unions and other groups.

Abruptly, Wyden abandoned the legislation he had helped write. He joined the dozen protesting Democratic senators in the last-minute ultimatum, demanding that majority Republicans also offer votes on bills to enforce labor standards with the U.S. trading partners and crack down on currency manipulation by foreign governments.

An only-in-the-Senate spectacle ensued: Wyden and the dozen Democrats voted against moving ahead on the package they, and Obama, support.

Stunned, the White House sputtered about the “snafu.” Obama summoned Senate Democrats for a meeting. And Republicans thundered about the perceived double-cross by Wyden, in a chamber that operates substantially on relationships and trust.

“Words,” grumbled Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch ominously, “have been broken.”

Does he think Wyden, his negotiating partner on the Finance Committee, had been dishonest?

“I’m not going to talk about our relationship,” replied Hatch, the committee chairman. “Was I disappointed? Yes. That’s all I’m going to say.”

It remained unclear what had transpired between the two, but Wyden insists he did not promise to move forward without the enforcement and currency bills.

“I would not have agreed to that,” he says.

Within 24 hours, Republicans had agreed to the Democratic demands. And the legislation allowing Obama to strike a historic Pacific trade agreement inched forward. Pro-trade lawmakers can say they voted for giving the United States a bigger piece of overseas markets. Democrats could tell labor unions they tried to force through additional bills to enforce existing labor standards with overseas trading partners, and to crack down on currency manipulation by foreign governments. And Wyden could claim both, including co-authorship of the main bill to grant Obama the authority to strike the Pacific Rim deal.

“He did the right thing,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

From Wyden’s viewpoint, the gambit succeeded. He’s pro-trade, but can now say he stood up for the enforcement of labor standards some in the Democratic base demand — both answers to the backlash he’s facing over the issue in Oregon.

Within hours of voting down the initial bill, Wyden’s re-election campaign issued a release bragging about the ultimatum.

“I remain committed to expanding trade opportunities for Oregonians and all Americans,” he wrote. “But we’re going to do it right.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Travelers wait in long lines to check in and board flights at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, ...
Associated Press

Amsterdam’s Schiphol compensating air travelers hit by chaos

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has launched a compensation program for travelers who missed their flights because of lengthy delays that have plagued the busy European hub for months. Schiphol’s announcement Thursday night heads off a possible mass claim for compensation by passengers who saw their holiday plans evaporate amid hourslong queues […]
5 hours ago
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach arrives for a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Friday, A...
Associated Press

Germany: EU could OK combined COVID vaccines next month

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s health minister said Friday that European Union drug regulators may authorize the use of vaccines that are each effective against two variants of the coronavirus. German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he expected the European Medicines Agency to meet Sept. 1 to consider a vaccine that would provide protection against the […]
5 hours ago
FILE - People walk outside the U.S Capitol building in Washington, June 9, 2022. The biggest invest...
Associated Press

In Biden’s big bill: Climate, health care, deficit reduction

WASHINGTON (AP) — The biggest investment ever in the U.S. to fight climate change. A hard-fought cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for seniors in the Medicare program. A new corporate minimum tax to ensure big businesses pay their share. And billions left over to pay down federal deficits. All told, the Democrats’ “Inflation Reduction […]
1 day ago
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, A...
Associated Press

House Dems set to overcome GOP for climate, health care win

WASHINGTON (AP) — A flagship Democratic economic bill perched on the edge of House passage Friday, placing President Joe Biden on the brink of a back-from-the-dead triumph on his climate, health and tax goals that could energize his party ahead of November’s elections. Democrats were poised to muscle the measure through the narrowly divided House […]
1 day ago
Kareim McKnight, center, talks to reporters during a press conference outside Chase Center, announc...
Associated Press

Protester: San Francisco paramedic sedated her involuntarily

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A protester has filed a federal civil lawsuit against the city of San Francisco claiming that a paramedic, under the direction of a police sergeant, injected her against her will with a sedative while she was handcuffed after being removed from a Golden State Warriors championship game for demonstrating in favor […]
1 day ago
FILE - Signs on the wall remind students to keep 6 feet apart during a media tour of the Norris Mid...
Associated Press

CDC drops quarantine, distancing recommendations for COVID

NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s top public health agency relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines Thursday, dropping the recommendation that Americans quarantine themselves if they come into close contact with an infected person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said people no longer need to stay at least 6 feet away from others. The […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
Wyden zips among issues, colleagues, re-election bid