WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House plunged into a divisive debate over trade legislation on Thursday, a controversy so thick that President Barack Obama conferred on strategy with Republican Speaker John Boehner and drew a public rebuttal in the House from a Democratic foe of the measure.
The trade authority is a top priority for the president, who hopes to complete a major deal with 11 Pacific Area nations. But the bill has drawn fierce opposition from Democrats, many of them supported by unions who argue that expanded global trade will cost jobs at home.
With a showdown vote expected on Friday, Boehner declined to predict the fate of White House-backed legislation to allow Obama to complete global trade deals that Congress could approve or reject but not change. The bill also would renew a program of aid, due to expire soon, for workers who lose their jobs as a result of global trade.
"I'm not in the guaranteeing business," Boehner said at a news conference after conferring with Obama on the phone.
"I know he's working on it and I hope he's successful," Boehner said of the president's campaign to secure Democratic votes.
The White House dispatched Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and other administration officials to a midday closed-door meeting with House Democrats, hoping to nail down enough votes to pass the measure.
The party's House leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, remained publicly uncommitted, as did other members of the leadership.
Republicans hold a commanding 246-188 majority in the House but were expecting a large number of defections.
Obama has publicly disagreed with critics in his own party on the merits of the legislation, saying they were wrong in their objections.
"You're not right, Mr. President. Actually, you're wrong on that one," Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, said in remarks on the House floor.
He drew a warning from the House chair not to engage in personal criticism of the president.
Pelosi sought to maintain leverage to the end to sweeten the package for workers directly disadvantaged by trade.
The legislation to strengthen Obama's hand in international talks was one of several trade-related measures pending in the House.
The first bill to be considered was adjusted by Republicans at the last minute to eliminate a provision in the trade measure itself that calls for a cut in another program to help pay for the aid to workers. Tougher tax compliance measures were inserted instead.
The debate in the House marked the beginning of a two-day struggle, and capped an effort by Republicans to reassure members of their own rank and file who distrust Obama and are not eager to expand his authority.
They included language in the package of bills to limit any impact of trade deals on immigration, climate policy and other issues.
For once in an era of divided government, most Republicans and the White House were on the same side of a bitterly contested issue.
Like Obama, Republican supporters of the bill argued that global trade deals are essential to give U.S. firms the ability to complete with overseas companies.