Trade deal battle

Clin­ton, cam­paign­ing in Iowa, says Obama needs to lis­ten to crit­ics and im­prove the pro­posed pact.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Joseph Tan­fani and Kur­tis Lee joseph.tan­fani @la­times.com Twit­ter: @jtan­fani kur­tis.lee@la­times.com Twit­ter: @kur­tisalee

WASH­ING­TON — Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton waded into the in­creas­ingly in­tense fight among Democrats over trade on Sun­day, say­ing Pres­i­dent Obama should lis­ten to crit­ics of a pro­posed Pa­cific trade deal and try to come up with “an agree­ment that would be bet­ter and not worse for Amer­i­can work­ers.”

Clin­ton, who had avoided com­ment­ing on the trade de­bate for weeks while it was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion in Congress, told sup­port­ers at a gath­er­ing in Burling­ton, Iowa: “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.”

Now, how­ever, af­ter the House’s re­jec­tion Fri­day of leg­is­la­tion that would have given Obama so-called fast­track author­ity to ne­go­ti­ate trade deals, “I think the pres­i­dent and his team could have a chance to drive a harder bar­gain, be­cause they are now in the po­si­tion of say­ing to all of th­ese other coun­tries, ‘We need to max­i­mize the num­ber of win­ners.’ ”

Clin­ton’s de­ci­sion to side with the crit­ics marked her most con­se­quen­tial break with Obama since she be­gan her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. It came on an is­sue that unions, en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions and other groups in the left wing of the Demo­cratic Party have turned into a test of strength against the White House.

The de­ci­sion by House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Fran­cisco) to op­pose the trade leg­is­la­tion came as a sting­ing re­buke to Obama. Repub­li­cans, led by House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), said Democrats were speed­ing Obama’s tran­si­tion into lame-duck sta­tus.

Clin­ton’s com­ments in Burling­ton were her sec­ond set of re­marks on trade dur­ing a day of cam­paign­ing in Iowa. Ear­lier, at a rally in Des Moines, she made a more am­bigu­ous state­ment, say­ing that “the pres­i­dent should lis­ten to and work with his al­lies in Congress, start­ing with Nancy Pelosi, who have ex­pressed their con­cerns about the im­pact that a weak agree­ment would have on our work­ers.”

At the Burling­ton event, she was more em­phatic, say­ing that to win her sup­port, the 12-na­tion Pa­cific trade pact would have to be made “bet­ter” than the deal the ad­min­is­tra­tion is ne­go­ti­at­ing.

“What I want to see is a con­certed ef­fort to see how far we can push the agree­ment. If we push it far enough where it looks like we can do a bet­ter job, where we can have more win­ners than losers, then we can make that judg­ment. If we can’t, then we should make the other judg­ment.

“You will not hear me line up in this case with the ‘pro trade’ or the ‘no trade’ be­cause my view has al­ways been: Is it good for Amer­ica or not?” she said. “If the specifics can get bet­ter, then maybe it’s some­thing worth sup­port­ing. If they can’t, then we don’t.”

She specif­i­cally crit­i­cized two el­e­ments of the deal un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion.

Spe­cial­ized pan­els that hear trade dis­putes need to “lis­ten to other voices be­sides cor­po­rate in­ter­ests,” she said. And big drug com­pa­nies, which would be among the main win­ners in the deal, should be re­quired to give Medi­care a break on drug prices in re­turn for the ad­van­tages they would re­ceive, she said.

Both pro­pos­als would be bit­terly op­posed by Repub­li­cans.

Clin­ton’s pre­vi­ous si­lence on the is­sue had gar­nered strong crit­i­cism from some mem­bers of her party and ri­vals seek­ing the nom­i­na­tion, in­clud­ing Sen. Bernie San­ders of Ver­mont.

San­ders had urged Clin­ton on Sun­day to “side with the unions” against pas­sage of the trade bill, which will be re­viewed in the House again.

“I would hope very much that Sec­re­tary Clin­ton will side with ev­ery union in this coun­try, vir­tu­ally ev­ery en­vi­ron­men­tal group, many re­li­gious groups,” in op­po­si­tion to the trade pro­posal, San­ders said on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion.”

Spurred by crit­i­cism from la­bor unions and the left, House Democrats re­buffed a dra­matic per­sonal ap­peal from Obama on Fri­day and voted down a pack­age of mea­sures that would have al­lowed the White House to con­clude a trade deal that Congress could ap­prove or re­ject but could not amend.

Although the House ap­proved fast-track author­ity, it re­jected a re­lated mea­sure to re­train dis­placed Amer­i­can work­ers, some­thing Democrats usu­ally sup­port. La­bor and many Democrats are skep­ti­cal that the pro­posed free-trade deal would ben­e­fit U.S. work­ers.

The Se­nate passed both mea­sures as a pack­age.

Also Sun­day, La­bor Sec­re­tary Thomas E. Perez pre­dicted that the pro­posed tran­spa­cific trade ac­cord would be com­pleted de­spite the re­jec­tion by House Democrats.

“I’m very con­fi­dent that we can find a way,” Perez said on ABC’s “This Week.” “There are mul­ti­ple pathways here.”

Ryan, who sup­ports the deal, said he re­mained op­ti­mistic.

“The pres­i­dent has a lot of work to do with his own party to turn this around and sal­vage this,” Ryan said on “Fox News Sun­day.”

“It’s ironic,” he added. “They are the ones who are mak­ing him a very lame­duck pres­i­dent, his own party.”

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