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President Challenged on Trade Bill : Democrats Threaten Battle to November If He Vetoes Measure

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Associated Press

Democrats stepped up their challenge today to President Reagan on trade, threatening an all-out fight until the November elections unless he drops his veto threat and signs the 1,000-page bill.

“If you decide to pull out that pen, Mr. President, we will have to override that veto and we have to votes to do it,” House Majority Whip Tony Coelho (D-Merced) told a Capitol Hill rally.

The rally outside Democratic national headquarters launched a show of political muscle orchestrated by House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) as a send-off for the bill before it goes to the President’s desk.

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Some last-minute technicalities were necessary before the measure could start down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, but Democratic leaders indicated they planned to have it there by the end of the week.

Effect on Campaign

Today’s ceremonies clearly were aimed at casting the bill in a flattering light and thus make a veto sound all the more harsh.

Democrats said the issue was bound to strike a resonant chord on the campaign trail. Party Chairman Paul Kirk said voters would “rally to the banner of the Democratic Party” in House and Senate races.

On hand for the rally were lawmakers, their aides, religious and labor leaders and a handful of laid-off workers brought in by the AFL-CIO for the occasion. Republicans were absent, as was Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), the chairman of the House-Senate conference committee that drew up the bill.

Democrats said Rostenkowski had scheduling conflicts. There have been recurrent reports of friction between him and Wright over provisions of the bill that appeared to guarantee a veto. Notable among them has been a feature requiring companies with at least 100 employees to give 60-day notice of plant closings and major layoffs.

Plant-Closing Issue Cited

In explaining his veto plan, Reagan has pinpointed the plant-closings provision as well as the bill’s curbs on Alaska oil exports.

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At the White House, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater reaffirmed that Reagan will veto the bill.

The bill would overhaul the system under which the United States uses trade restrictions to aid U.S. industries threatened by imports and retaliate against international trade violations.

The legislation passed the House 312 to 107, a margin more than enough to override the expected veto. But it won final passage in the Senate on April 27 three votes short of the two-thirds needed for an override, and Democrats were still uncertain of just where they would find the additional support.

“We’ll consult the stars,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said wryly.

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