Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign feared backlash from labor groups, particularly the AFL-CIO, following President Barack Obama’s decision to improve Malaysia’s human rights standing in order to help push the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Clinton Labor Outreach Director Nikki Budzinski warned fellow senior campaign staff in July 2015 that AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka would be mobilizing the union against the move and that Clinton should be ready to answer labor questions about TPP and Malaysia’s human rights record, according to emails Wikileaks made public on Monday.
“Obama just readjusted Malaysia’s tier on the human rights list in order to move TPP thru with Malaysia attached. Trumka will likely be putting out a statement today blasting this,” Budzinski wrote. “I have heard that we will soon be asked to weigh in given the Secretary’s role at State and as a Presidential candidate. Wanted to provide this heads up. Let me know if I can help or you have questions.”
Budzinski referred her query to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta – from whose email account the message was retrieved – in addition to National Political Director Amanda Renteria and Campaign Manager Robby Mook, among others.
In a separate email referring to various potential discussion topics from labor groups, Budzinski once again warned that Malaysia’s human rights record and TPP would be an issue. “I think we should be prepared that several EC [Executive Council of AFL-CIO] members will want to press the Secretary to be specific on trade,” she wrote. “The new twist on TPP with the WH/State Department adjusting Malaysia’s human trafficking standard to clear a path for inclusion of Malaysia in TPP, will most definitely come up.”
Budzinski suggested that Clinton use the chance “to provide a specific example of something that would be a no-go for her with trade.”
Budzinski referred more generally to the Malaysia question in another email, noting that she had previously addressed it in more detail.
Malaysia is one of the most prominent nations for human trafficking in Asia, for which it had earned a place on the State Department’s Trafficking in Person report. President Obama’s decision to improve its standing on that list in order to make Malaysia eligible to be part of the TPP deal alarmed an array of voices on the left. Publicly, the New York Times editorial board complained the claim that Malaysia had improved its situation so dramatically “strains credulity,given how little Malaysia has done to address the problem.” The Wikileaks email release proves Podesta was receiving multiple emails from leftist advocacy groups calling for louder opposition to TPP in relation to the Malaysia story.
In private, Podesta was also fielding questions from some of the most prominent global elites regarding doing business with Malaysia. Shortly before a scheduled meeting with magnate George Soros, a Soros aide sent Podesta a memorandum arguing that President Obama’s attempts to strengthen ties with Malaysia had serious human rights implications.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Soros memo read, has created “a Malay-Islamic state in which Sunni Islam’s supremacy is indivisible from the political and legal supremacy of the Malay race.” Najib’s tenure has been marked by unprecedented corruption, an increase in the popularity of the Islamic State, and a variety of human rights violations that include human trafficking but extend to punishments for violations of Sharia law that violate international human rights norms.
Soros’ aide told Podesta that the Malaysia/TPP issue would likely come up in any one-on-one conversations with him.
The latest Wikileaks emails mentioning Trumka are not the first revealing friction between the Clinton campaign and labor organizations. In an email chain released earlier this month and sent in September 2015, policy advisor Ann O’Leary referred to Trumka as “annoying” for complimenting Vice President Joe Biden. Budzinski replied, “I agree. He is annoying.”