President Obama, speaking at a gathering of business leaders on Wednesday, offered his strongest public defense of his administration’s pursuit of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) between 12 nations in the Asia Pacific that has been opposed by Democrats, labor unions, and environmental groups.  Making progress in ongoing trade deals represents one of the president’s best chance for a legacy-building achievement in the final two years of his presidency.

The Obama administration has argued that the trade deal will boast U.S. exports and lower tarrifs for American goods in the fast-growing Asian Pacific region, where there is increasing competition from China.  “Those who oppose these trade deals ironically are accepting a status quo that is more damaging to American workers,” Obama said.  “There are folks in my own party and in my own constituency that have legitimate complaints about some of the trend lines of inequality, but are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to opposing TPP and I’m going to have to make that argument,” the president said.

Last month in Beijing, the president met with representatives from the Asian nations involved in the TPP talks in a bid to provide momentum to negotiations to reach a general agreement by next spring.  He also meet this week at the White House with Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who will become majority leader next month, and has said the GOP would be supportive of Obama’s efforts to liberalize trade policy.

However, at the same time, President Obama is facing increasing pressure from the TPP countries, especially Japan, to win approval from Congress for fast-track authority, which would allow him to pursue a final deal that could not be changed by lawmakers before a vote by Congress. Current Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blocked a push from the White House last year over fears of push back from labor unions and other liberal groups.

Administration officials think they have a better chance to win approval for fast-track authority from a Republican-controlled Congress, but in the his remarks, the president acknowledged that skepticism remains in both parties. “It is somewhat challenging because of Americans feeling as if their wages and incomes have stagnated because of increasing global competition,” President Obama said.  “There is a narrative there that makes for some tough politics, ” he said.  Labor officials took issue with the president’s remarks and vowed to fight the administration’s trade push.

In addition, some House conservatives said they are opposed to granting the president more unilateral authority in the wake of his executive action two weeks ago to defer the deportation of several million undocumented individuals residing in the United States.  In the end, Obama could face opposition from “an interesting coalition of sort of progressive Democrats and anti-Obama tea party Republicans,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).