Clinton Opposes TPP

Glenn Fawcett/Wikimedia Commons

Before anyone much had time to speculate about what Hillary Clinton would do about the just-completed Trans-Pacific Partnership, she told Judy Woodruff in Iowa late yesterday that she was “not in favor of what I have learned about it,” and doesn’t “believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set” for multilateral trade agreements.

All of Clinton’s hedging on this issue will probably get quickly hammered down into flat opposition via media coverage and questioning, certainly by the time of next week’s first Democratic candidate debate. And just as quickly, two POVs about the impact of this development on the presidential race are emerging.

The first and most obvious is that she’s following the pretty clear direction of rank-and-file public opinion on TPP, not to mention the very strong inclinations of the labor movement, potentially her trump card in a competition with Bernie Sanders (and Joe Biden, who if he runs for president probably has not choice but to support an agreement that his boss the president is treating as a major legacy accomplishment). Opposing TPP offers an immediate and tangible response to those activists who fear HR will continue her husband’s and Obama’s alleged water-carrying for corporate America in the international arena, and also contributes to the very tricky project of expanding her appeal beyond those who would at this point in history vote for a third Obama term.

The second take was best expressed by New York‘s Jonathan Chait:

[S]he served as secretary of State during the treaty negotiations and never registered her dissent. Indeed, she praised the agreement over and over and over, even calling it “the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.” Now Clinton has repudiated a treaty with which she has closely associated herself….

Sure, she might slightly mollify some supporters in labor, who would like cover to support her candidacy even though they disagree on the agreement. But she will also do more damage to her overall credibility and reputation for conviction — which happens to be the biggest single problem she faces right now.

Personally, I think this could go either way politically. Big complicated trade agreements like TPP are rarely popular and such public opinion as it is motivating is largely negative. Even K Street isn’t treating this as a must-have like NAFTA was back in the day. And as we’ve already discussed here, this time around there will be a noisy bipartisan effort to derail TPP in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail.

On the other hand, you could see HRC’s “flip-flop” on TPP becoming a bit like John Kerry’s “I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” with opponents in both parties pointing out the 152 or 285 or 315 or whatever it’s supposed to be times she spoke in favor of the TPP as an idea before it was finally negotiated. Interestingly, Bernie Sanders praised Clinton’s new position on TPP, while Martin O’Malley attacked her for the flip-flop. I suppose one key variable is whether the agreement actually clears Congress, and if it doesn’t, whether Clinton gets credit and/or blame. And while some distance from Obama–particularly on this kind of issue–is healthy for HRC, I can’t imagine white-hot presidential anger at her is going to be a positive in the long run.

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.