Vice President Joe Biden defended the Obama administration’s pursuit of a Pacific trade agreement at a meeting with House Democrats, while acknowledging that the deal represented an election-year challenge, according to a White House official.

Biden discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership yesterday as he addressed a closed-door retreat of House Democrats in Cambridge, Maryland, said the official, who declined to provide more details on the private event.

The vice president spoke as Democrats in the House and Senate are voicing skepticism about President Barack Obama’s call for Congress to grant him trade-promotion authority that will speed negotiation of accords such as the Pacific-rim pact and an agreement being considered with the European Union.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared his opposition to granting the so-called fast-track negotiating authority a day after Obama urged Congress in his State of the Union address to give him that power. The Nevada Democrat said on Jan. 29 that when it comes to fast-track trade approval, “everyone would be well-advised just to not push this right now.”

Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, telephoned Reid to complain hours later, according to two Senate Democratic aides who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private call.

Reid voted against fast-track authority renewal in 2002, the last time it moved through Congress. Many Democrats oppose the trade agreements because they think the accords will hurt U.S. workers.

Republican Support

Many congressional Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have expressed support for the trade pacts.

“This administration has largely been out of the trade business for five years,” McConnell said Feb. 4. “It’s time to get in it.”

During yesterday’s meeting with House Democrats, Biden sought to make a case for the administration’s trade priorities, including the TPP, saying the accords are in the U.S. economic interest, the official said.