In an interview Thursday with The Washington Post, McConnell said the measure in question, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement reached recently between 12 nations including the United States, Mexico, Japan and Australia, "certainly shouldn't come up before the election" because it might not pass.
"I think the President would be making a big mistake to try to have that voted on during the election. There's significant pushback all over the place," said McConnell, who in June voted in favor of providing fast-track congressional approval of trade agreements that would help the TPP pass more easily.
A spokesman for McConnell confirmed the leader's sentiment and issued a statement from the senator.
"As I've said, there are many concerns up here on the Hill with this agreement -- from Democrats and Republicans alike. But trade is critically important to our economy and national security. So I think the president should consult with Congress on the timing and path forward on this important issue," McConnell said.
Lawmakers from both parties have numerous concerns with TPP, including labor and wage issues and its impact on the environment.
McConnell is worried that the agreement has provisions that could hurt tobacco growers in his home state of Kentucky. Also, the Republican chairman of the finance committee, Orrin Hatch of Utah, whose support is critical if TPP is to be passed, is upset with provisions he thinks could hurt U.S. drug companies.
If Congress doesn't act on the pact, or if it is taken up and defeated, it would be a major setback for Obama, who planned to make its approval a key focus of his last year in office. The global deal is seen as a significant legacy issue and lynchpin of his "Asia pivot" policy.
Asked about McConnell's comments Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration still hopes Congress will act quickly on the bill.
"It is possible for Congress to carefully consider the details of this agreement and to review all of the benefits associated with this agreement for states and communities all across the country without kicking the vote all the way to the lame duck period," Earnest said. "There is no reason that we need to wait that long, and particularly when you consider the views that have been shared by some leaders in the business community about how important it is for this agreement to get implemented so that American workers and American businesses can start reaping the businesses."
In the Post interview, McConnell noted that the fast-track provision he voted for extends for five years, raising the possibility the next president could try to pass TPP.
"The next president, whoever that is, will have the authority to either revisit this one, if it doesn't pass, or finish the European deal or other deals, and give Congress a chance to weigh in on it," McConnell said.
Under fast-track authority, Congress can vote yes or no on a trade agreement but can't amendment it.