NEW YORK CITY, New York — Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances be damned, President Barack Obama is on a warpath to achieve congressional approval of his landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact before he leaves office.
Appearing on CNN—a network that is more and more openly in favor of electing Clinton—for an interview with Fareed Zakaria before his trip to China, Obama defended the highly controversial TPP deal.
“Well, no, the — I don’t think that’s correct,” Obama said when Zakaria opened the interview by noting that GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is against TPP, and now Clinton and even House Speaker Paul Ryan claim to be against it in its current form.
“Look, the politics of trade have always been complicated,” Obama explained, seeming to suggest that Clinton and Ryan, as many in politics have suspected, are only appearing to be against his trade pact for political purposes. In fact, Clinton previously endorsed TPP publicly more than 40 times, even calling the Pacific Rim pact the “gold standard” of trade deals. Many see Clinton as a globalist elitist when it comes to trade, and her husband former President Bill Clinton even signed the last job-killing trade deal—the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—into law.
But more importantly, throughout his answer to Zakaria’s question, the sitting president detailed how he plans to—regardless of the consequences politically for Clinton—ram through the TPP as his last act as president. The move to keep driving for TPP puts Clinton in a politically difficult position because Clinton cannot legitimately claim to be opposed to the deal, and then do nothing to stop the president from pushing it. It plays right into GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s hands, since he has framed this election in many ways as a referendum on the TPP: a vote for Clinton is a vote to revive and salvage the deal in some way, while a vote for Trump is a vote to incinerate it once and for all.
“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a historic agreement, cobbled together among a very diverse set of countries,” Obama told Zakaria. “And the basic argument is simple. This is going to be the world’s largest market. And if we’re not setting the rules out there, somebody else is. And what we have been able to do is not just establish a trade agreement among these countries, because many of them we already have trading agreements with.”
Obama used several of the same pro-TPP talking points to further sell the beleaguered deal.
“What this does is it raises the standards for trade so that there is greater protection for labor rights, a greater protection for environmental rights, greater transparency, greater protection for intellectual property, which is so important to a knowledge-based economy like ours,” Obama said. “It removes 18,000 taxes, effectively, tariffs, because we’re a relatively open market and many of our trading partners there have been closed, it gives us a — a huge lever to open up markets for American goods and services. And so there’s no serious economist who hasn’t looked at this and said this is actually not only a smart trade deal, but it actually makes up for some of the failures of previous deals to have fully enforceable labor or environmental components.”
But now, Obama says, with anti-open borders trade Democrats and the rise of populism in the Republican Party with Trump winning the GOP nomination for president, the deal is endangered.
“But what is true is that there have been, in the past, always, a vocal set of interests that are opposed to trade inside my party, the Democratic Party and what’s been new is some populist anti-trade sentiment inside the Republican Party,” Obama said.
But Obama pointed back at the successful passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) last year, which greases the skids on a fast-track to help pass trade deals through Congress by killing the ability for any amendments and lowering the Senate vote threshold down to just 51 votes needed for passage rather than 60 for cloture or 67 for a treaty ratification. Because of TPA’s passage, Obama said, he is “confident” he will pass the TPP in the lame duck session of Congress after the election before the new president and new Congress takes office in January.
“Having said all that, it was said that we couldn’t get the authority to even get a trade deal done and we got it done,” Obama said. “And I remain confident that we can get TPP passed.”
The real question now is, if Hillary Clinton is actually opposed to the TPP, why has she not said anything about opposing Obama bringing it up in the lame duck session of Congress? A Clinton campaign spokesman has not responded to a request for comment on whether Clinton opposes Obama bringing up TPP in the lame duck, and if she calls on Democrats to join her in opposition to Obama bringing up the TPP in the lame duck.
Obama also used the interview to push another, similar deal: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), which would encompass a variety of European nations.
“The combination of globalization and automation have integrated the world economies like never before,” Obama said when the conversation turned to T-TIP from TPP. “And what I think has been the fault of those in charge of that integration process has been to not pay attention to the winners and the losers. Overall, it has created enormous growth, prosperity and wealth for all the countries involved. Part of the reason that we’ve seen billions of people rise out of extreme poverty during our lifetimes has been because of that integration.”
Obama did admit during this part of the discussion that blue collar workers have had a rough go of it in the globalist economy.
“But what’s also true is, is that there has increasingly been, because of this integration, a tendency towards those of us who are highly skilled, highly resourced, have access to capital, to be able to get a bigger and bigger share of that growth,” Obama said.
People who are low skill, low wage, not mobile, have had trouble getting leverage in this system. And so that divergence has created more and more inequality within advanced economies, whether it’s the United States countries like Europe. And so part of the argument that I’ve been making consistently, part of the argument that I will be making when I go to my last G-20 meeting is that if advanced countries don’t pay attention to inequality, if we don’t pay attention to not just growth in the aggregate, but how is that growth distributed and do people have ladders of opportunity in this new global economy, then yes, there’s going to be a reaction against globalization and against trade, even though whether that resistance is coming from the left and or the right the prescriptions that they’re describing, somehow cutting off global trade aren’t really viable. And so, you know, the argument I make to my progressive friends is you are absolutely right to worry about inequality, but the answer is not to pull up the drawbridge. The answer, rather, is to make sure that everybody has high labor standards, that all countries are accountable to their citizens in terms of things like minimum wages, workers’ standards, making sure that there’s an education system that people can access. and unfortunately, we haven’t done enough of that.