HRC Weighs In Carefully on TPA

It’s not entirely accurate to say that Hillary Clinton managed to avoid weighing in on the welter of party-dividing issues raised by the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement until after a crucial vote that may have blown it all up. She has for a while laid out a two-part “test” for trade agreements, and thus has at a minimum broken with the ancient free-trade formula of the Democratic Party that a majority of Democrats (and a lot of Republicans) no longer accept.

But in Iowa on Sunday she did address the current situation, per this report from MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald:

Until Sunday, Clinton had declined to weigh in on a fight in Congress over a Trade Promotion Authority bill that would give President Obama the ability to “fast-track” trade deals. The bill pit the White House against Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Clinton faced pressure from the left to take a stand.

She began by reiterating her view that any new trade deals should raise wages, protect American workers and enhance national security. “I’ve been saying that for months,” Clinton said, before breaking new ground.

“Now here’s what I think should happen now. In order to get a deal that meets these high stands, the president should listen to and work with his allies in Congress, starting with Nancy Pelosi, who has expressed concern about the impact a trade agreement could have on our workers to make sure we get the best deal possible. And if we don’t get it, there should be no deal,” she said.

And she suggested she could have gotten a better deal than Obama. “No president would be a tougher negotiator on behalf of American workers either with our trading partners or Republicans on Capitol Hill than I would be,” she said.

Clinton called for turning the “lemons” of TPA’s defeat in the House on Friday into the “lemonade” of a better Trans Pacific Partnership deal by urging Obama to use the defeat as leverage to renegotiate parts of the trade pact with 11 other countries. “The president has this amazing opportunity now.”

Her remarks came just hours after her campaign officials were grilled on the Sunday morning political talk shows over her non-stance on trade.

The headline of Seitz-Wald’s piece suggested HRC had broken with Obama on trade. But I think a more obvious interpretation is that she waited until after the key House vote so as not to undermine Obama’s position–a rather predictable bit of deference to the 44th president from the person who aspires to be the 45th–and then immediately staked out a “party unity” position while reiterating her own approach to the general topic.

Some observers found this approach disingenuous: e.g., CNN’s Eric Bradner, who complained that HRC was conflating TPA with TPP and pretending the latter could proceed without the former. But I dunno: everybody’s conflating TPP with TPA and for that matter with TAA–the ostensible topic of Friday’s House vote. And she’s right that the only way forward for Obama is to quickly find some concessions on the substance of the draft TPP agreement itself that could bring Pelosi–who has reportedly bent over backward to give the president a fighting chance–over the line, and with her the handful of Democrats necessary to get to a majority. Otherwise he is going to be in the position of shivving pro-TPP Senate Democrats in the back by trying to force them to go against their own public vows that they will only support TPA if it’s accompanied by a robust TAA reauthorization.

It’s not surprising that Bernie Sanders is denouncing Clinton’s statement as far too little and far too late, but then again, there is no version of TPP that would satisfy him and no path forward for Obama other than abandoning the agreement once and for all and perhaps issuing a public apology to Rich Trumka for pursuing it in the first place. But that ain’t happening, and nor is a real “break” with Obama on much of anything by Hillary Clinton.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.