Key Obama-backed trade bill fails House vote

The U.S. House defeated a key trade-related bill that was an essential step to passing President Barack Obama's long-sought trade authority.

The House overwhelmingly defeated Trade Adjustment Assistance, which was a necessary step for the body to progress a trade promotion authority bill. The latter vote would have allowed Obama to "fast-track" his negotiated trade deals through Congress—meaning the legislative branch would only have the options to approve or reject such an agreement.

The TAA vote—126 in favor, and 302 against the motion—came after Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced she would be voting "no" on the measure.

Read MorePacific trade: Why DC is fighting about 'fast-track'

Despite the failure of that proposal, the House proceeded to cast votes anyway on fast-track authority. That bill then passed the wholly symbolic vote by a count of 219 to 211.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest hailed this symbolic victory, saying "we are obviously gratified that we were able to advance that piece of legislation with bipartisan support."

Obama, meanwhile, said in a statement that he urges the House "to pass TAA without delay." He said he is ready to sign both that measure and the fast-track authority bill.

"...I urge the House of Representatives to pass TAA as soon as possible, so I can sign them both, and give our workers and businesses even more wind at their backs to do what they do best: imagine, invent, build, and sell goods Made in America to the rest of the world," Obama said in the statement.

The trade authority is a top priority for Obama, who hopes to complete a major deal with 11 Pacific Area nations.

The US Capitol building
Getty Images
The US Capitol building

The outcome was uncertain and the drama intense heading into Friday's votes. In frantic 11th-hour maneuvering, liberals in the House defied their own president and turned against a favored program of their own that retrains workers displaced by trade. Killing the program would kill the companion trade bill, and many Democrats and labor leaders advocated just that.

The move caught the Republicans off-guard. House Republicans, already in the awkward position of allying themselves with Obama, found themselves being asked by their leaders to vote for a worker retraining program that most have long opposed as wasteful. Many were reluctant to do so, leaving the fate of the entire package up in the air, and Obama facing the prospect of a humiliating defeat at the hands of his own party members.

The White House plans to use trade promotion authority to pass a deal on the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the administration characterizes as an essential part of the U.S. "pivot" toward Asia.

Read MoreTPP: What's at stake for Abe, Obama

Although fast-track authority will help convince partners at the negotiating table that the U.S. is serious about getting a deal done, administration officials told CNBC that they do not consider it absolutely essential to making the trade pact happen.

Yet in a convoluted series of events Thursday, the fast-track bill, long the main event, seemed to fade in importance even as Republicans began sounding confident it would command enough votes to pass. Instead, Democrats began eyeing the possibility of taking down the related Trade Adjustment Assistance bill—a maneuver that would be made possible only because of how House leaders decided to link the two of them in rules governing how they would come to a vote.

Liberal lawmakers argue a trade agreement would harm the country if it lacks adequate enforcement measures. Some Libertarians oppose the deal as well.

On the other hand, some contend the Pacific trade agreement is necessary to fight China's influence in the area by establishing an American-led system of regional trade standards.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.