"Make no mistake, I am a blue-collar senator," Ms. Mikulski said. "I am casting a protest vote for what should have been -- a president that would have provided us the leadership that would have brought us together [to] create a national navigational chart to generate jobs in manufacturing."
She announced her decision as the Senate struggled to wind up its work for the year and get out of town. NAFTA, a deal among the United States, Canada and Mexico to eliminate tariffs and create a free-trade market of 360 million people, is virtually assured of approval by the Senate.
Ms. Mikulski's announcement on the Senate floor came less than 24 hours after Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes said that he, too, would oppose the trade deal. The decisions put the Maryland Democrats at odds with Mr. Clinton, but their votes are not needed for approval. And their opposition lines them up with organized labor, a key campaign supporter for both.
Ms. Mikulski won't have to face the voters again until 1998. But, Mr. Sarbanes faces a re-election campaign next year, and though no major candidate has emerged to challenge him, the Republican Party, believing he is vulnerable, is searching for one.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Ms. Mikulski received $326,844 in campaign donations from organized labor from 1987 to 1992, and Mr. Sarbanes received $285,775.
The AFL-CIO mounted an all-out assault on NAFTA, trying to defeat it in the House.
The labor federation threatened to oppose members of Congress next year who voted for the deal. The fear of organized labor and other opponents of NAFTA is that the deal will encourage U.S. companies to move manufacturing operations to Mexico, a prospect Mr. Sarbanes discussed at length in his speech to the Senate.
Ms. Mikulski did not mention Mexico once, alluding to the possibility that jobs might head south only by saying that one of her goals as a senator is "saving jobs" and citing the "fears" of working people who have witnessed a loss of jobs, lowered wages and a reduced standard of living in recent years.