TPP Could Haunt Clinton in General Election

Sanders supporters want the party platform to oppose TPP, while Trump seeks to tie Clinton to it
By Steven Klett, Epoch Times
June 30, 2016 Updated: June 30, 2016

News Analysis

Hillary Clinton has the difficult task between now and November to remain consistent with her positions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement while uniting the Democratic Party and defending against attacks by Donald Trump.

Uniting the Democratic Party means coming to peace with rival Bernie Sanders. In the primary season, Sanders won states like Michigan and West Virginia in part because of his condemnation of trade deals opposed by white working class voters.

Sanders and his campaign have been pushing to have those views represented in the party platform. But despite Clinton’s public condemnation of the trade deal, the Democratic Party Platform Committee have voted not to oppose it.

Obama’s Signature Trade Deal

The TPP is one of President Barack Obama’s signature trade deals, and a contentious issue on both sides of the political aisle.

Both Trump and Bernie Sanders have pointed to the potential loss of jobs and increased job inequality in the American market.

The deal, signed on Feb. 4 by Obama, includes the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. It contains measures to decrease tariffs, reduces American dependence on Chinese trade, and is similar to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade agreement with the European Union. 

The Senate still needs to ratify and approve it before it goes into effect. The ratification process could take up to 2 years of negotiations, during which at least six out of the 12 countries need to approve the text. 

Clinton’s Position

As secretary of state, Clinton defended the trade plan numerous times, calling it the “gold standard” of trade deals. However, as a presidential candidate, she reversed her position, saying in a debate in October 2015 that it “no longer met her standards.”

But despite Clinton’s public change in opinion, critics of the deal are still skeptical that she’s going to follow through on her opposition to the trade deal, following her years of support.

The first round of talks by the Democratic Party Platform Committee in St. Louis reinforced skeptics’ fears when an amendment opposing the TPP was voted down by the Clinton supporters on the committee.

“I think the TPP is important, especially since she’s already agreed to oppose it; I don’t know why it’s not in the platform,” wrote environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, when asked what would encourage more Sanders supporters to side with Clinton, in an email to Epoch Times.

McKibben is one of five appointments to the platform committee that were chosen by the Sanders campaign. Six appointments were chosen by the Clinton campaign, and four were chosen by Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. 

The division over the TPP in the Democratic Party is a division about party allegiance to Obama, who signed the agreement in February.

Some committee members like Maryland Representative Elijah E. Cummings didn’t want to undercut the president, while Sanders-picked supporter (and Obama friend) Cornel West said that the issues transcended loyalty to the president, according to the Washington Post.

The Sanders camp did win a number of important amendments to the platform—amendments for a $15 minimum wage, Wall Street reform through a modernized Glass-Steagall Act, and an abolition of the death penalty.

However, the voting down of the TPP amendment points to a split in the party that is larger than this issue. It prioritizes party loyalty to the current president over the positions of the two candidates who are running for president.

The indeterminate influence of the platform is also a factor to consider. Should Clinton be elected president, she can choose her position on the TPP regardless of what the party’s platform says.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to multiple inquiries about Clinton’s position on the TPP.

Trump’s Stance

The Democratic Platform Committee’s disagreement with Clinton and Sanders makes for easy fodder for Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump, who has made his opposition to the TPP and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) a centerpiece of his campaign.

Trump outlined his plans for economic and trade reform in a speech on June 28 in Monessen, Pennsylvania, at materials company Alumisource, and called for the reversing of two trade deals of the Bill Clinton years—NAFTA and China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization.

He also warned that the TPP is the “greatest danger yet” and a “death blow for American manufacturing.”

Thus the general election’s battle lines are being drawn. Trump is targeting white working class voters who may have voted for Sanders during the primaries but don’t trust that Clinton will reject the trade deals.  

However, Trump’s proposals clash both with the GOP’s orthodoxy on trade and with Obama. Following Trump’s speech, he was criticized by both sides.

The Chamber of Commerce, normally an ally to the Republican Party, was a vocal critic of Trump, saying on its Twitter feed that “we would see higher prices, fewer jobs, a weaker economy.”  

Obama was also critical of Trump, describing the proposed withdrawal from the TPP as the “wrong medicine” for concerns about globalization, stagnant wages, and economic inequality.

“The question is, what do you do about it. And the prescription of withdrawing from trade deals and focusing solely on your local market—that’s the wrong medicine,” Obama said.

A Key Campaign Issue

Clinton’s position on the TPP is one of the contentious areas in the general election so far, and the way that she handles the issue may help guide the election’s narrative. 

With Trump pushing it to the forefront of his platform, Clinton faces tension on three fronts—Sanders, Trump, and the Democratic Party Platform. 

On one hand Trump and Sanders both see her as the standard bearer of the trade deal and a resilient defender of Obama’s legacy, with Trump running a campaign against the trade policies of both Obama and former president Bill Clinton. 

Conversely, by opposing the TPP, Hillary Clinton is now at odds with the party platform and with the president over the issue.

How the Clinton campaign will treat the TPP issue going forward is unclear. In responding to Trump’s speech on jobs and trade, the campaign didn’t mention the TPP, instead focusing on Trump’s business overseas.