Quotes of the day

The Senate blocked President Barack Obama’s top trade priority Tuesday, with the president’s own party abandoning him en masse

The 52-45 vote fell well short of the 60 votes needed, with only one Democrat, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, voting with the president…

But it marks a huge setback for Obama, who has made a concerted and relatively rare, personal lobbying effort to push the trade deal over the finish line. He’s also sharply criticized opponents of the deal in his own party, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in particular, who have ripped him for hiding the details of trade agreements from the public until after he gets fast-track authority.


In a theatrical fight, both sides go through the motions. They may look like they are really fighting, but it’s really just a charade designed to communicate to constituents and interest groups. The final outcome is preordained.

In a genuine fight, the outcome is actually uncertain, and the combatants are really annoyed, not just pretending. That kind of fight creates real winners, real losers, and, sometimes, lasting rifts and scars.

The fight under way right now about trade between Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama is starting to look more and more like a genuine fight

As Obama himself observed, part of the reason this is so raw for the left and labor is that they still haven’t gotten over Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s support, more than 20 years ago, of the North America Free Trade Agreement. If Obama succeeds in getting fast-track authorization from Congress for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and then succeeds in getting a deal passed, it could be a similarly significant achievement.


The liberal grass-roots movement gave birth to two huge stars over the last decade, one who rode a wave of anti-war support into the White House and the other who became the ideological standard-bearer in the fight against big banks and corporate greed.

Now, in a battle few saw coming three years ago, President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are locked in an increasingly personal dispute over a mammoth global trade deal that the president is trying to finalize in his last years in the White House. The faceoff has become the defining battle in the Democratic Party, as Obama seeks “fast-track” trade authority from Congress, which would allow him a freer hand to cut trade deals…

On two fronts Warren appears to have won initial battles. The Senate on Tuesday ran into a filibuster of the Trade Promotion Authority measure that would grant Obama fast-track powers to pass global deals, as the overwhelming majority of Democrats blocked consideration of the legislation.

Also, Clinton has provided almost no cover for Obama on the trade issue even though she played a role in shaping the early stages of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has long claimed the “pivot to Asia” as one of her most prominent accomplishments as Obama’s first secretary of state.


Minutes after his former Democratic colleagues in the Senate filibustered his trade deal, President Obama sent a message to supporters declaring the fight was “personal for me” and pleading with liberals to rally around him…

This is personal for me. I understand the skepticism about this, or any, trade deal. I’ve met folks across the country who still feel burned by agreements of the past. Those are the people I came to Washington to fight for,” the president said in an email sent out by his campaign team, vowing that he wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of past trade deals in his negotiations…

Republicans said Mr. Obama needs to do more to get his own troops in line. All GOP senators voted to debate the fast-track deal, joined by only a single Democrat.

“Does the president of the United States have enough clout with members of his own political party to produce enough votes to get this bill debated and ultimately passed?” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.


THE PLUM LINE: What’s your response to the latest from President Obama?

SENATOR WARREN: The president said in his Nike speech that he’s confident that when people read the agreement for themselves, that they’ll see it’s a great deal. But the president won’t actually let people read the agreement for themselves. It’s classified…

PLUM LINE: Is there no scenario under which you ultimately support TPP?

WARREN: Trade deals matter…I am worried about key parts of this trade agreement. I would like to see changes. I believe in trade.

I understand that we want to be a nation that trades, that trade creates many benefits for us. But only if done on terms that strengthen the American economy and American worker. I should say the American family, because that’s what this is really about.


Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of the top Democratic opponents of President Barack Obama’s trade agenda, criticized Obama on Tuesday for what the senator saw as “disrespectful” comments toward Sen. Elizabeth Warren and indicated that Warren’s gender may have played a role.

“I think by just calling her ‘another politician’,” Brown told reporters Tuesday when asked how Obama was being disrespectful to Warren. “I’m not going to get into more details. I think referring to her as first name, when he might not have done that for a male senator, perhaps? I’ve said enough.”…

“I think the president was disrespectful to her by the way he did that,” Brown told reporters during the news conference, which came after nearly all Senate Democrats voted to block trade measures from proceeding on the Senate floor. “I think that the president has made this more personal than he needed to.”

Brown continued: “I know he disagrees. When he said that a number of us — not just Sen. Warren — but don’t know what we’re talking about, we’re fighting the last war, a number of those phrases he used, I assume he wished he hadn’t said them because he shouldn’t have said them.”



Labor and progressive groups are eager to see Clinton come out swinging against the deal. But Clinton would open herself up to charges of flip-flopping and cynical pandering if she did so now, given her past remarks and her generally pro-trade positions in the past…

“Whatever the merits of the TPP, this issue has become a surrogate within the party for a larger debate about corporate power and fairness, which puts her in a difficult spot,” said David Axelrod, a former top political adviser to the president.

“She was the [secretary of state] when these negotiations began, and the previous Clinton administration was closely identified with trade. But it is a volatile issue, and supporting it could add to fears on the left that she is too oriented toward big business and give additional impetus to a potential primary challenger,” Axelrod said…

In the end, this is one where [Clinton] is going to have to take a gut check and choose. And she would probably do best by choosing the side in which she genuinely believes, even if it buys her some grief,” he noted. Obama “could relieve some of that pressure” on Clinton “by making a compelling case” for the trade deal, he said.


Obama has fought progressives before and won, most memorably in his efforts to pass mediocre fiscal deals that they believed gave away too much to Republicans. But this struggle is different, and more reminiscent of the failed push that President George W. Bush made, during the twilight of his own presidency in 2007, to get enough Republicans to join the Democratic congressional majority in supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Then as now, immigration was a flashpoint for conservatives who feared a repeat of the broken promises made 20 years earlier by a president of their own party, Ronald Reagan. Democrats invoking the passage of NAFTA under Bill Clinton are invoking similar fears on trade. Barbara Boxer, the veteran California liberal, said in a floor speech that she was “suckered” into supporting fast-track authority—which helped expedite the NAFTA talks— in the late 1980s and came to regret it. “They’re making all these promises,” she said of the current TPA push, “and the more I hear it, the more I hear the echoes of the NAFTA debate.”

Just like Bush, Obama is finding that his powers of persuasion within his own party are dwindling the closer he gets to retirement. And while attention shifts to the campaign to replace him, he has gotten no help—so far—from Hillary Clinton, whose position on the trade deal is one big hedge. The setback in the Senate for Obama’s cause on Tuesday may be temporary, and either Reid or Clinton can still step in to turn momentum back in his favor. But without their assistance, another one of the president’s major second-term priorities could be doomed.


“She’s absolutely wrong,” Barack Obama said, before I could even get the question out of my mouth…

This past week, as I had just reminded Obama, Warren launched her heaviest torpedo yet against the trade deal, alleging that some future president might use it as an excuse to undo the reregulation of Wall Street that Obama signed into law in 2010. In fact, as the White House quickly pointed out, language in the pact would expressly prevent that unless Congress voted to allow it.

Three days after that broadside, when we sat down at Nike’s headquarters outside Portland, Ore., Obama still seemed unusually irritated.