The big public debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trade Promotion Authority (better known as “fast-track”) is mostly one between Barack Obama and the business community on the one hand, and a variety of traditionally anti-trade agreement groups (headed by labor) and progressives on the other. The political question we usually hear about is how many Democrats Obama can keep on his side? But as Dave Weigel explains at Bloomberg Politics today, there’s another threat to the fast-track bill and thus to the treaty emerging from a very different quarter:
On April 13, the strategist Curtis Ellis published a column in The Hill arguing that the trade deal was a “trojan horse” for amnesty, because it included an “entire chapter on immigration” that made the acquisition of L-1 visas easier. It was easier still to imagine the president using this bill to grant legal status to millions of foreign workers. “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another instance of Obama using every means he can to advance his immigration agenda, as he said he would,” wrote Ellis.
This worry was not unique to Ellis; by April 16, the Ways and Means Committee felt it necessary to debunk the “backdoor amnesty” rumor. “Like past U.S. trade agreements,” wrote the committee’s analysts, “TPP will explicitly state that it will not require changes in any parties’ immigration laws or procedures. While other countries are negotiating temporary entry commitments in TPP, these will not include the United States.”
Yet the rumor persists. On Tuesday, in The Hill (again), Dick Morris largely re-wrote the Ellis column to argue that the TPP would usher in “mass immigration.” And in conversations Tuesday, several Republican members of Congress said they had heard dark rumors about the deal.
“I’m concerned that we are again empowering a president who abuses power,” said Louisiana Congressman John Fleming. “We’re hearing something about some kind of an exchange, or utilizing foreign workers, and at a time when we have so many Americans not working I think that’s a problem.”
Asked where he’d heard the rumor, Fleming could not say. “I just came across some stuff; I’m not even sure where I read it,” he said. “I want to get to the bottom of it. What often happens with these bills is that we get the hype, we get the marketing, but we don’t get the details until the last minute.” Echoing the language of the skeptics, he worried that the deal might be a “trojan horse.”
I guess Fleming might have “come across some stuff” from The Hill, which seems to be the chief purveyors of the right-wing conspiracy theorists. But then again, Fleming seems to be producing as much of this “stuff” as he is consuming it:
“He [Obama] could open up trade with countries that are sworn enemies of ours,” said the congressman. “Before you know it, Iran could be one of our closest trading partners, and we’d be giving access to people who are sworn enemies of our destruction.”
Presumably Harry Reid and Elizabeth Warren and other sworn enemies of fast-track and TPP have been warned to muffle their laughter at some of the rationales they are hearing from the people who may deliver them victory.