The Riggs Report: Backing up Bera
Bera occupies one of the most vulnerable House seats in the nation
President Obama needs every friend he can get in Washington right now when it comes to the fight over a new free-trade treaty. That requires providing political cover and support for his allies, especially when those allies find themselves taking withering fire.
Exhibit A is Sacramento-area Congressman Ami Bera, a Democrat, who occupies one of the most vulnerable House seats in the nation. Bera won re-election last year over challenger Doug Ose by only about 1,400 votes—or less than a 1 percent margin, in a race that was among the most expensive in the country.
Dynamics are tough in the 7th Congressional District, which covers much of eastern Sacramento County. Democratic registration is 38.4 percent, less than a 2 1/2 point advantage over Republican registration. About 20 percent of the district’s registered voters don’t identify with either party.
In a marginal district like this, controversial issues get magnified, because the stakes are high.
Against that backdrop, the AFL-CIO is financing a barrage of television spots, putting Bera in the crosshairs for supporting the president’s fast-track legislation aimed at quickly negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty. Bera, the ads say, is supporting a process that will lead to loss of middle-class jobs and environmental protections.
Bera argues otherwise, saying he believes President Obama should have authority to negotiate a treaty that will position California to boost trade with Pacific Rim markets, thus leading to continued economic growth. He finds himself engaged in an unusual alliance with the president and with House Republicans who support an open-trade agreement.
Bera is not taking the politically expedient path. He could have simply sided with labor and avoided the heartburn. Instead, the unions are hammering hard at a lawmaker that national Democrats spent millions of dollars to elect and re-elect. How’s that for strange politics?
Which takes us back to President Obama. He told House Democrats in a recent meeting that he was prepared to do what he could to counter attacks against those who support his fast-track bill. Following through on that promise, Obama took the notable step of granting a rare one-on-one interview with KCRA-TV’s Edie Lambert at the White House this week. The playbook could be expected to include a presidential visit to Sacramento next year.
It should be noted that Obama did not enjoy overwhelming support in Bera’s district in the last campaign. He only beat Republican Mitt Romney by 4 percentage points in 2012. Even so, a presidential endorsement would be important to Bera in terms of shoring up any wavering Democrats.
And so the battle unfolds. President Obama counts the new treaty as a top priority during his remaining time in the White House. And the question remains: can he protect Ami Bera from becoming collateral damage in 2016? Republicans would love to leverage labor’s attacks to reclaim Bera’s seat.