Washington, Nov 14: The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday failed to pass a bill establishing permanent normal trade relations with Vietnam, in a setback for President George W. Bush, who is visiting Hanoi this weekend.
The surprise result followed an announcement by the State Department that it had dropped Vietnam from its list of nations that severely violate religious freedom, citing an improvement in its tolerance for religious expression.
The setback on the trade bill raises the possibility that Bush could go to this weekend`s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hanoi without delivering on a trade initiative his administration made a major priority.
That threatened to overshadow other efforts to ensure Bush`s visit would be a success, including Vietnam`s removal from the U.S. list of countries that violate religious freedom.
Supporters of the Vietnam trade bill failed to get the two-thirds vote needed to approve it on the House "suspension calendar," usually reserved for noncontroversial legislation.
But since lawmakers voted 228-161 in favor of the bill, Republicans leaders were expected to try to win approval later this week through a procedure that requires only a simple majority to pass.
"The vote showed there is strong support in the House for this bill and it will pass eventually," said Adam Sitkoff, the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce chapter in Hanoi.
It is still possible that both the House and the Senate could approve the bill before Bush is in Hanoi.
The chances of a Senate vote on the trade bill improved after Hanoi announced it was deporting a U.S. citizen convicted of plotting violence against the Vietnamese government.
Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, had been blocking Senate action on the to win the release of Thuong Nguyen Foshee, who lives in his state and was in a Vietnamese prison for 14 months before she was convicted last week.