The Cable

Clinton Pledges — Again — To Block Trade Deal She Once Backed

Clinton’s latest dismissal of TPP is an effort to win over skeptical Rust Belt voters.

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Donald Trump gave a major economic speech earlier this week, prompting Hillary Clinton to roll out one of her own Thursday — and to try to get around the inconvenient truth that she supported a large and deeply controversial Asian trade deal before flip-flopping and loudly opposing it.

Speaking to a crowd of 500 in Michigan, the Democratic presidential nominee promised to block the Trans Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation pact that Trump and some lawmakers from both parties deride as a job-killing agreement that will see American jobs move overseas.

“I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs of holds down wages, including the TPP,” Clinton said Thursday afternoon. “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”

The problem for Clinton is that she vocally backed the deal while serving as secretary of state, a fact that Trump — like Clinton’s defeated Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders — uses as one of his more effective, and accurate, attack lines. He argues that her initial support for the trade pact, which was negotiated in secret over five years and covers 40 percent of the global economy, means Clinton is responsible for the growing divide between rich and poor, stagnant wages, and the  loss of American jobs to foreign competitors.

In a statement released before Clinton had even finished her speech, Stephen Miller, a senior Trump policy adviser, called Clinton a “corporatist, offshoring, trickle-down globalist — the exact opposite of the Donald Trump America First platform. A vote for Hillary is a vote for NAFTA, TPP and the end of American manufacturing.”

Clinton had tried to use her Michigan speech to portray herself as tough on trade, a position she adopted after Sanders hammered her on the campaign trail for backing what he called job-killing trade agreements. She said that she would stand up to Beijing and any country that tries to take advantage of American workers and companies. Clinton said she would appoint a chief trade prosecutor and would triple the number of officers charged with determining if foreign partners are living up to terms of trade deals. “When countries break the rules, we won’t hesitate to impose targeted tariffs,” she said.

Clinton also accused Trump of fear-mongering when it comes to trade. “He may talk a big game on trade, but his approach is based on fear, not strength. Fear that we can’t compete with the rest of the world even when the rules are fair. Fear that our country has no choice but to hide behind walls,” Clinton said.

Since the Democratic convention, Clinton and her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, have been working to take voters’ focus off past positions on trade and onto her proposals to create new jobs, increase wages, and grow the economy. Their efforts appear to have paid off; Trump held a lead over Clinton in polls that questioned who would best handle the economy, until last week. Now, a CNN tally shows voters prefer Clinton to Trump on that question, 50 to 48.

“Trump’s agenda will pull our economy back into recession,” Clinton said.

Clinton also tried to convince lower and middle class voters who support Trump that the GOP nominee is working against their interests. She offered a robust rebuttal of the economic plans that Trump outlined earlier this week and painted his proposals, which lacked key details and relied on disproven economic theories, as a gift to America’s wealthiest that would have little benefit to the middle and working classes Trump claims to champion. The mogul’s bleak vision of America, she said in a reprise of a theme she’s been hitting since the Democratic convention, simply doesn’t reflect reality.

“When he visited Detroit on Monday, he talked only of poverty, failure, and crime,” Clinton said of Trump. “He is missing so much of what makes Michigan great.”

The former secretary of state painted the upcoming election as a simple choice: Who is better equipped to help working families stung by years of stagnant wages and the loss of many manufacturing jobs? Clinton argued that Trump’s tax plan would further open the divide between rich and poor, and that his proposal would benefit the wealthiest Americans, including Trump and his family, with little benefit for the middle class.

She attacked Trump for failing to pay contractors for their work in places like Atlantic City, and accused him of running from his business debts. Clinton said not to believe Trump is on the side of the “little guy,” and painted him as a friend of corporations, environmental polluters, and the financial industry. Clinton promised to change laws so that “Wall Street can never ruin Main Street again.”

Borrowing a page from her rival, though, Clinton outlined a long list of costly new programs and initiatives without saying how she would fund them or overcome certain GOP opposition.

Clinton proposed $275 billion in infrastructure investment; tax penalties for companies that move operations abroad; and tax incentives for profit sharing programs. She pledged to fix schools and water filtration systems, and to connect all U.S. households to broadband by 2020. Clinton also said she would create an infrastructure investment bank, make new investments in exportable technology, and would simplify the federal tax process for small businesses. Clinton also called for free public college tuition for working and middle class families, and said she would make it easier to pay back student loans.

Explaining how she’d actually bring any of that about wasn’t Clinton’s mission Thursday; her goal was to convince Rust Belt voters that she, not Trump, would help them to benefit from the economic recovery. There will be ample time before November for pollsters to give a sense of whether her approach will work.

Photo credit: BILL PUGLIANO/Getty Images

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