President Barack Obama is taking the fight for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal to America’s streets — directly countering the fusillades from Donald Trump and, increasingly, from Hillary Clinton.
[Adam Behsudi | August 16, 2016 | Politico]
The White House is making an all-out push to win passage of the deal in the lame-duck session of Congress, organizing 30 events over the congressional recess to gin up support for the agreement, considered key to Obama’s strategy to counter China in the Asia-Pacific region. The strategy is to offer support and cover to the small flock of Democrats who supported legislation to fast-track the deal and to remind wavering Republicans that they oppose it at their own peril because of its strong business support.
Despite his embrace of Clinton, Obama has been unwilling to abandon a deal that he regards as central to his legacy simply to avoid political fallout for her campaign. Although Clinton came out against the deal last fall, she supported it while secretary of state, making her vulnerable to attacks — first from Bernie Sanders and now from Donald Trump — that her opposition is politically motivated and therefore changeable.
“Well, right now, I’m president, and I’m for it,” Obama said at a press conference earlier this month. “And I think I’ve got the better argument. And I’ve made this argument before. I’ll make it again: We are part of a global economy. We’re not reversing that.”
Last week, the president signaled his commitment to getting the deal done by effectively notifying lawmakers he would submit the trade bill later this year.
But the White House’s increasingly aggressive push on trade is only further alienating the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Followers of Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have pulled Clinton to the left on trade, with the candidate last week offering her strongest repudiation of TPP yet, rejecting the deal now, after the election and as president.
Now they fear Obama is discrediting Clinton among working class voters by continuing to press for a vote in the lame duck.
“Every week that goes by that Donald Trump is allowed to undermine voters’ beliefs that the Democratic party stands for working people and against trade deals written by corporations, that’s another week that helps Donald Trump on this particular issue,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Warren-aligned Progressive Campaign Change Committee.
Green’s organization, along with liberal activist groups, Democracy for America and Credo Action, sent an online petition this week to an estimated 5 million members with the subject line: “Shame on Obama.”
The White House is adamant, however, that failure to pass TPP would damage U.S. credibility and leadership in one of the fastest growing regions of the world.
“As we’ve said all along , there are very real consequences of inaction on TPP, and we will continue to focus on that case,” said an administration official. “Without TPP we’d be losing out on an estimated $130 billion in additional income each year.”
Administration officials including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Agriculture Undersecretary Alexis Taylor are touting the deal across the country in meetings with business and agricultural leaders in a bid to generate positive local headlines. Lew met with Fortune 500 executives in Minneapolis earlier this month, while Taylor will promote the deal in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at the National Corn Growers Association grassroots leaders’ summit.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, meanwhile, appeared Aug. 3 with Democratic Rep. Jim Costa, one of 28 Democrats who supported fast-track authority last year, talking about how the administration is responding to the water crisis in his drought-stricken central California district. Later that day, she was in Rep. Susan Davis’ San Diego district, touring a guitar factory with the trade-supporting Democrat. The next day, she stood alongside Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, another Democratic supporter of fast-track authority, shaking hands with startup entrepreneurs among his increasingly tech-centric, liberal constituency.
The White House is also working indirectly to pressure Republicans. Administration officials are holding events with business and agriculture executives to underscore that traditional GOP kingmakers still are big TPP supporters despite Trump’s populist, anti-trade message. Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Robert Holleyman talked up the deal in Atlanta Monday with UPS CEO David Abney, whose company employs 362,000 workers in the U.S.
“Given the rhetoric on the campaign trail, it’s clear there is an even more important need for the business community to be speaking loudly about why this is important for U.S. jobs and the opportunities that would be lost,” said Christopher Wenk, executive director for international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Wenk said he will be touting the deal’s benefits at an Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce “pancakes and politics” event Tuesday morning, countering Brett Voorhies, president of the Indiana state AFL-CIO, who will be on the same panel.
Numbers will be everything in the fight to pass the landmark trade deal, as the fast-track bill passed the House by a slim 10-vote margin.
And there have been defections since then: At least nine House GOP lawmakers who supported fast-track authority oppose TPP itself. Those include Frank Guinta, Mike Bost and Tom Reed who have independently come out against the deal. It also includes House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster and House Administration Chairwoman Candice Miller, both of whom signed a letter this month with four other lawmakers saying they could not support TPP in the lame duck because it doesn’t include enforceable rules on currency manipulation. Meanwhile, the Republican platform approved in Cleveland last month said no “significant” trade deals should get votes during the lame duck session.