Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive Asian trade deal, as secretary of state before turning against it while a candidate for president. One of her closest allies, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, said at the Democratic convention she would renew support for the deal — with some tweaks — if she wins in November, something the campaign denied. Now, a high-level campaign appointment has further muddied the waters on Clinton’s true views of the pact.
On Tuesday, the former secretary of state announced Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator and secretary of the interior, would serve as the chairman of her transition committee. He brings with him one inconvenient policy position: outspoken support for TPP.
“The TPP promotes and rewards American firms that export our clean energy ingenuity, creating good jobs at home while shaping a renewable energy future abroad,” Salazar co-wrote in a USA Today op-ed in November 2015, along with Bruce Babbitt, another former interior secretary.
Salazar’s appointment is likely to provide ammunition to critics, both within the Democratic Party and from Republicans, that Clinton’s reversal on the deal is only temporary and that she would seek to implement it if elected. She changed her position only after her primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, railed against the deal as part of his pitch to progressive Democrats. Now, she says it does not meet her standards. The Clinton campaign did not return a request for comment on Salazar’s free trade past.
Salazar has been a long-running supporter of the trade deal, and free trade in general. As a Colorado senator, he voted for trade pacts with Peru and Oman. In December of last year, he joined two former Colorado governors to pen a Denver Post op-ed calling for Congress to pass TPP.
“Current rules of international commerce stack the deck against our state, but opponents of [the TPP] have responded by turning inward, clamoring to turn back the clock, and shutter ourselves from the increasingly interconnected economy,” Salazar and his co-authors wrote.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s push to get the deal done before he leaves office — he considers it a cornerstone of his economic legacy — continues. After signaling last week that he will send the pact to Congress, Obama’s deputy U.S. trade representative, Robert Holleyman, said at an event in Atlanta on Monday that his boss plans a “full-fledged, full-throated effort” to make TPP law. On Tuesday, Politico reported that the president is set to push for the deal in a series of events across the country.
Obama’s continuing push for the deal puts Clinton in a tight spot; it’s likely to enrage the progressive wing of his party, as well as some Rust Belt voters who still feel the sting of past job losses attributed to free trade. Clinton needs those voters to win the White House, but also wants members of Obama’s voting coalition to pull the lever for her in November. Her TPP tap-dance continues.
“President Obama’s events around the nation in favor of passing the corporate-written TPP after the election will hurt Democratic chances of success this November — and help Donald Trump’s chances with blue-collar voters,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.
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