Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton Sunday finally tried to distance herself from President Barack Obama on trade after weeks of pressure from organized labor.
‘‘The president should listen to and work with his allies in Congress, starting with Nancy Pelosi, who had expressed their concerns about the impact that a weak agreement would have on our workers to make sure we get the best strongest deal possible,’’ Hillary said in Iowa according to The Boston Globe. ‘‘And if we don’t get it, there should be no deal.’’
Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as fast-track, has created a lot of tension between the president and many within his own party, including labor unions. If passed, the president could submit a finalized trade deal to Congress that could not be amended or filibustered and would only need a straight up or down vote.
Unions, hoping to make trade an important campaign issue, have put pressure on Hillary to take a firm stance against fast-track. Though she was slow to do so, Hillary offered critics a reason why.
‘‘I have held my peace because I thought it was important for the Congress to have a full debate without thrusting presidential politics and candidates into it,’’ Clinton said. ‘‘But now I think the president and his team could have a chance to drive a harder bargain.’’
The main issue for opponents is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which Obama is currently negotiating with 11 other Pacific nations. Fast-track would allow the president to much more easily pass the trade deal which unions claim will benefit corporations and special interests at the expense of working Americans and the environment.
Losing union support over an issue like trade could be devastating for Hillary. Organized labor wields considerable political influence and is a source of some of the most generous contributors during campaigns, especially to Democrats.
Though it is too soon to tell whether this has allowed Hillary to finally enter the good graces of organized labor, her opponents are not impressed. Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, another Democratic candidate, argued she hasn’t actually made a stance against the deal, she has just urged the president to work better with Democratic lawmakers.
“Is she for it? Is she against it?” Sanders told reporters according to The Associated Press. “Those are your two options.”
Prior to separating herself from Obama on trade, Hillary tried other ways to court unions. In May she prominently showed off union-made gear during the official launch of her online campaign shop and urged people to stand firmly for unions during a speech in Chicago.
At the moment, fast-track has stalled in Congress. In order to become law, a House fast-track measure, which was passed Friday, must match the Senate version. But without the renewal of the worker protection program, known Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), it does not.
Without TAA the House and Senate will either have to go to conference to come up with a matching measure or the House will have to bring TAA back up for another vote. Until both the Senate and House have matching fast-track measures, opponents will remain successful in stalling its implementation.
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