Begun the Trade Wars have, at least among Democrats. Barack Obama has long sought fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals that the Senate would then have to either approve or reject in toto at a later date if needed, a rare point of consensus between Obama and (most) Republicans on Capitol Hill. Democrats, especially the progressive wing represented by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), object on the grounds that free-trade deals tend to disadvantage American workers, and that Senate scrutiny is necessary before approval.
Last night, Chris Matthews asked Obama about the dispute on Hardball by posing the softball question, right down to characterizing Warren as “throwing the kitchen sink” at the beleaguered President. Obama responded by telling Matthews that he “loves Elizabeth,” but “she’s wrong,” and that she should just trust him:
Obama, in an interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” took on critics, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who have leveled harsh criticism at his proposed trade policies.
“I love Elizabeth. We’re allies on a whole host of issues. But she’s wrong on this,” he said.
“I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class,” Obama added. “And when you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts they are wrong.”
Obama challenged the claims of skeptical Democrats that new trade deals would hurt American workers by incentivizing companies to ship jobs overseers.
Warren responded today with a withering rebuttal, accusing the White House of hiding secrets in the TPP deal, and of conniving with a bunch of corporations, man:
The Administration says I’m wrong – that there’s nothing to worry about. They say the deal is nearly done, and they are making a lot of promises about how the deal will affect workers, the environment, and human rights. Promises – but people like you can’t see the actual deal.
For more than two years now, giant corporations have had an enormous amount of access to see the parts of the deal that might affect them and to give their views as negotiations progressed. But the doors stayed locked for the regular people whose jobs are on the line.
If most of the trade deal is good for the American economy, but there’s a provision hidden in the fine print that could help multinational corporations ship American jobs overseas or allow for watering down of environmental or labor rules, fast track would mean that Congress couldn’t write an amendment to fix it. It’s all or nothing.
Before we sign on to rush through a deal like that – no amendments, no delays, no ability to block a bad bill – the American people should get to see what’s in it.
That brings us to … Hillary Clinton. Her husband signed NAFTA, which means that progressives already have ample reason to mistrust her on trade. She worked with Obama on trade issues, although Hillary never signed a significant deal that hadn’t already been set up by the Bush administration. On top of that, the Clinton Foundation has all sorts of ties to the multinational corporations that act as seed corn for the crops of conspiracy theories about trade on the Left. Where does she come out on the TPP and fast-track authority?
Er … nowhere, at least as of now. But as the Washington Post suggests, Hillary can’t keep stonewalling on this for much longer before the progressives start looking at Plan B:
The tensions broke into public view after Clinton hedged during her first remarks on whether she would support an Obama-backed trade package that is gaining traction in Congress but is opposed by some on the party’s politically potent liberal wing.
“Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security,” Clinton said during a tour of a community college in Concord, N.H., that focuses on technical skills. “We have to do our part in making sure we have the capabilities and the skills to be competitive.”
Her remarks, which echoed a noncommittal statement from her presidential campaign late last week, placed her in an uncomfortable spot between the pro-business and pro-labor wings of the party. The trade issue is being closely watched by liberals who would prefer a more adamantly left-leaning candidate to carry the Democratic banner.
Hillary had actually staked out a position on both during the first Obama term:
Clinton is viewed as a key barometer among Democrats. As secretary of state, she touted the trade pact as part of the Obama administration’s strategy to shift U.S. foreign policy attention to Asia to confront China’s growing influence.
By the time Clinton left the State Department in early 2013, the Obama administration was deep into negotiations on the TPP, which Clinton had referred to as “the gold standard in trade agreements.”
In other words, Hillary can’t sit on the sidelines for long. Warren may not be a viable candidate to challenge her in the primary, but Martin O’Malley certainly would be, and he’s already calling Hillary out for her silence on this. If she won’t address it — or if she sticks with her previous positions on fast track and TPP — progressives may line up behind O’Malley and bail on the Clintons. If she reverses herself, then Hillary will likely lose Wall Street, who can’t be all that sanguine about Democratic prospects in 2016 anyway.
Frankly, one has to ask why Republicans are so adamant about pursuing this, although one answer is very clear: it creates a civil war among Democrats. It’s the only possible explanation for handing plenary power to Obama on trade while attempting to curtail his arrogation of it on immigration. If that’s the plan, it’s working, as Democratic leadership has now broken out into open political warfare over fast-track and TPP.
As long as that lasts, the rest of us can only do one thing … pass the popcorn.