House Rejects Vietnam Free Trade Bill

Legislation to normalize trade relations with Vietnam was defeated Monday in the House of Representatives, four days before President George W. Bush is to make his first visit to the only country ever to defeat the United States in a major war.

The measure failed to win the necessary two-thirds majority it needed under a procedure House Republicans adopted to rush it through with limited debate. It received 228 votes in support — 32 short of what was needed. There were 161 votes against it.

The Bush administration was hoping to gain approval of the measure before Bush meets later this week with Vietnamese leaders in Hanoi.

House Republicans were caught by surprise by the extent of opposition to the measure.

The proposal also faces obstacles in the Senate, where the administration has had to offer textile-state senators assurances that it will impose penalty tariffs on Vietnamese textile products if the country should be found to be selling those products at unfairly low prices.

U.S. retailers were pushing for assurances that these anti-dumping duties would not be used in an arbitrary fashion to keep Vietnamese products off U.S. store shelves.

The House debate occurred on the first day Congress reconvened after last Tuesday's elections, in which Democrats picked up enough seats to gain control of both the House and the Senate.

House Republicans, who still control the House in the lame-duck session, could bring the measure up under normal procedures which require only a majority of votes for passage.