The Obama administration is attempting to manage a trade bill with such hyper-secrecy, it’s becoming its own worst enemy, per a Politico report.
If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you’ve got to be a member of Congress, and you’ve got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door.
If you’re a member who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving.
Members of Congress don’t appear to think much of being treated like children. And even Democrats are complaining.
And no matter what, you can’t discuss the details of what you’ve read.
“It’s like being in kindergarten,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who’s become the leader of the opposition to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda. “You give back the toys at the end.”
The administration is denying the charges, claiming there are people who oppose any deal and are making excuses in an attempt to derail it. But with so many Democrats adding fuel to the fire, the administration may have to come up with a better explanation than that.
But those arguments aren’t making much headway among trade skeptics, who feel they are being treated with disrespect and condescension. And they increasingly are pinning the blame directly on United States Trade Representative Mike Froman, who’s been headlining the classified briefings, in addition to smaller meetings with members.
“The access to information is totally at the whim of Ambassador Froman,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who’s a hard no on fast track but says he’d like to see other ways of promoting international trade. “He likes to make available information that he thinks helps his case, and if it conflicts, then he doesn’t make the information available,” Doggett said.
Doggett, like other critics, pointed out that the cover sheets of the trade documents in that basement room are marked only “confidential document” and note they’re able to be transmitted over unsecured email and fax — but for some reason are still restricted to members of Congress.
“My chief of staff who has a top secret security clearance can learn more about ISIS or Yemen than about this trade agreement,” Doggett said.