Driven by concerns over American jobs, factions within both the Democrat and Republican parties have appealed for greater trade protection. Does the legislative record reflect this rhetoric and have protectionist demands impacted the direction of trade policy in recent decades? Our answers are yes and no, respectively. We investigate the content of all 3356 trade bills introduced in Congress, 2005–2016, and classify them as liberalizing and protectionist. Analyzing legislator decisions to sponsor or cosponsor bills, we show that legislators who represent districts hardest hit by trade competition promote protectionism at a higher rate. We find strong evidence that district economic conditions reinforce the party position for Democrats and reveal intra-party cleavages among Republicans. Yet, these local interests are quickly sidelined in the legislative process. The few trade bills that become public law advance liberalization. The attrition process reflects the positions of party leadership who exercise gatekeeping powers to promote legislation that aligns with productive firms and the broader national interest. Thus we show how local economic conditions, partisan politics, and Congressional elite jointly shape the direction of trade policy, reinforcing U.S. engagement in the global economy.