Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has joined the chorus of Republican presidential candidates and members of Congress opposed to granting President Barack Obama’s request for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) which would fast-track the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Pacific Rim trade deal.
“I’ve told leadership I’m a ‘no’ vote” on trade promotion authority,” Paul said in New Hampshire, according to WMUR. “I’m hesitant to give blanket authority on stuff we haven’t seen. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be a time I could be for it, if I’d seen the trade agreement, and it’s fine.”
“I still might vote for the trade agreement, but I hate giving up power. We give up so much power from Congress to the presidency, and with them being so secretive on the treaty, it just concerns me what’s in the treaty,” Paul added.
WMUR quoted, in an update to that piece, U.S. Trade Representative spokesman Matthew McAlvanah as arguing they have been transparent with it. McAlvanah said:
The text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations has been available for members of Congress to read since 2012 at their request. Earlier this year, the administration took the additional step of placing copies of the text in the Capitol building for members of Congress to review at their convenience. Members of Congress can bring staffs and take notes when they review the document. A number of Senators have chosen to read the text. In addition, once the negotiations are complete, the full text of the agreement will be available for the public and members of Congress to review for two months before the president even signs the agreement in the first place and many more months before any vote in Congress is ever taken.
But, as Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) wrote for a piece for Breitbart News on Tuesday, it’s not available for members very easily—and they need to sign a non-disclosure agreement before reading it. Also, any notes members take need to be left in the room—something McAlvanah didn’t include in his statement.
“What is in this agreement known as TPP? I, as a United States Congressman, can read the negotiations,” Duncan wrote. “However, in order to read them, I must be in a classified reading room in the Capitol, sign a non-disclosure agreement which assures that I will not discuss the contents of what I have read, and I am allowed to take notes, but I have to leave them in the room.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign staffer April Ponnuru’s husband Ramesh took Paul’s statement—which is in line with statements and actions the senator has taken before—and argued he’s been all over the place on trade.
Paul, Ramesh Ponnuru wrote, “has been against TPA, for TPA, strongly for TPP, and against TPA because it enables the TPP.”
“Regarding Paul’s secrecy argument, it’s worth noting that TPA will last into the next administration and cover future trade deals negotiated during its life,” Ponnuru wrote. “A vote for it is, and always has been, a commitment to an up-or-down vote on trade deals that nobody has yet seen.”
To make his argument, Ponnuru cites how Paul voted against an 2011 amendment from now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, then Minority Leader, that would have done the same thing as the current TPA, then cosponsored the “Jobs Through Growth Act” which contained many things, including that McConnell amendment in it, a month or so later.
In October 2014, Paul said, according to Ponnuru: “Instead of just talking about a so-called ‘pivot to Asia,’ the Obama administration should prioritize negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership by year’s end. Free trade and technology should be the greatest carrot of our statecraft.”
There’s quite a big difference between supporting free trade and supporting fast-tracking a deal that’s nonpublic and people don’t know what’s in it. Essentially, what Paul is arguing is exactly what Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is pushing for: Transparency, and less-of-a-rushed-process so people can know exactly what they are voting for.
Sessions has written to President Obama asking him to make the highly controversial so-called “living agreement” from inside the TPP deal—which is currently secret—public before the Senate gives him TPA fast-track authority for the deal. Also, this TPA would be a six-year authority and would apply to other trade deals, not just TPP—and give them an up-or-down vote rather than the 60-vote threshold, like most things in the Senate, or the 67-vote threshold for international treaties.
Paul’s comments are also in line with the vast majority of 2016 Republican presidential candidates. Former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Dr. Ben Carson, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and real estate magnate Donald Trump all support free trade in principle but are opposed to this deal for the same reasons as Sen. Paul.
Ponnuru’s piece contains one word—“Disclosure”—at the end in parentheses which links off to a February 2015 post laying out his conflict of interest while his wife is employed by Bush’s presidential campaign-in-waiting. Ponnuru wrote in that February 2015 disclosure post:
As some of you may have read here the other day, my wife is going to work for an organization affiliated with Jeb Bush, a likely presidential candidate. An old friend of mine, Senator Ted Cruz, seems likely to run as well. And another probable candidate, Bobby Jindal, a conservative Indian-American convert to Catholicism, is very nearly my demographic twin. So as you can tell, I have multiple sympathies. I reserve the right to criticize or praise any of these candidates, or their rivals, in the future, and expect to exercise that right frequently.
Paul’s comments against the deal came shortly before Senate Democrats bucked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s efforts t0 rush the trade deal to the floor of the Senate, stalling McConnell for at least a few days–maybe a week–while he works to appease them to drop their blockade. Now firmly opposed to his powerful Kentucky colleague–and on the side of most voters nationwide, Republican and Democrat, according to polls even from the pro-secret-trade-deal Wall Street Journal–Paul stands a chance at helping lead political outsiders’ rebellion against the permanent political class and Wall Street elites on trade.