President Tells Congress TPP Is Coming Their Way. What Will Clinton Do?

Dave Johnson

One day after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton strongly underscored her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership in a speech in Detroit, President Obama officially started the clock on a lame-duck congressional vote on that agreement.

Politico has the story, headlined “Obama puts Congress on notice: TPP is coming“:

The White House put Congress on notice Friday morning that it will be sending lawmakers a bill to implement President Barack Obama’s landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement — a move intended to infuse new energy into efforts to ratify the flatlining trade pact.

The submission of the draft Statement of Administration Action establishes a 30-day minimum before the administration can present the legislation, but it is unlikely to do so amid the heated rhetoric of a presidential campaign that has depicted free trade deals as major job killers.

Here is the timeline, as described by Politico:

Once Congress reviews the draft statement, the administration can move forward with sending lawmakers a final statement and the draft of the implementing bill itself, which will describe the actual changes to U.S. law to comply with the rules of the trade agreement.

After that, the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees could hold “mock markups” of the bill (because under trade promotion authority, Congress is not actually allowed to tinker with the agreement or its implementing legislation itself, but it can ask the administration to do so). But given the tenor of the elections, the entire process could be pushed into a crowded lame-duck legislation session, which would mean no time for the mock markups and, instead, a lot of deal-making between the White House and congressional leadership to move the bill before Clinton or [Donald] Trump take over on Jan. 20.

So, the countdown to a lame-duck vote on TPP is officially underway.

Sanders Pledges To Do Everything He Can To Stop A Lame-Duck Vote

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pledged to do everything he can to stop it. The Hill has that story:

“It is now time for the leadership of the Democratic Party​ in the Senate and the House to join Secretary Clinton and​ go on the record in opposition to holding a vote on this job-killing trade deal during the lame-duck session of Congress and beyond,” Sanders, a former White House contender, said in a statement Friday.

… Sanders, pledging to do “everything I can” to block the trade deal, added Friday that he is “disappointed” the Obama administration is “pushing forward” with TPP.

“[They] continue pushing forward on the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that will cost American jobs, harm the environment, increase the cost of prescription drugs and threaten our ability to protect public health,” he said.

Clinton Has More To Do

With Sanders pledging to do everything he can to stop a lame-duck vote on TPP, Clinton’s statement of opposition, no matter how strong, will not be seen by TPP opponents as doing enough. At some point she has to break with President Obama and fight Bernie-style to stop it. That requires more than words. She hasn’t yet called on Democrats to vote against TPP and didn’t call on Obama to withdraw it.

Her problem is credibility. Too many do not believe she is not really opposed, only saying so to get votes. For example, Ian Fletcher, writing in “It’s Alive! Obama Moving Forward with TPP After All” at The Huffington Post:

There had been some speculation – and hope – that soaring public opposition to the pact had put it on indefinite hold, but no.

Hillary Clinton, despite pretenses to the contrary, fairly clearly supports this thing, so this is no surprise.

Some See Good Signs

Dierdre Fulton, writing at Common Dreams, quotes Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s (PCCC) Adam Green saying that Clinton “signaled she will personally work to kill” TPP,

Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green, who said in a release on Thursday afternoon: “These were Hillary Clinton’s strongest words yet against the TPP. For the first time, Clinton signaled she will personally work to kill the corporate-written TPP if it comes up after the election in an unaccountable lame-duck Congress. President Obama will hurt Democratic chances of success this November—and help Donald Trump’s chance of winning blue-collar voters—if he does not heed Clinton’s signals and take the TPP off the table before the election.”

Fulton also quotes Democracy for America’s (DFA) Charles Chamberlain:

DFA executive director Charles Chamberlain agreed that Clinton’s stated opposition on Thursday was “the strongest we’ve heard from her to date and will undoubtedly help build the support necessary to kill this miserable trade deal once and for all.”

“However,” he added, “it’s now more important than ever that the country and President Obama hear specifically from Secretary Clinton that a vote on the job-killing TPP during a lame duck session of Congress must not happen.”

Clinton Likely To Win, But Then What?

Even though Clinton is likely to win the election, she will still need wide support to govern. If TPP comes up and passes in the lame-duck session – even though the deed is on Obama – it will kill good will and trust because many progressives will feel betrayed. This will embolden Republicans to oppose everything, as they have done under Obama. TPP passing gives Clinton a very bad send-off into the presidency.

Obama has now started the TPP clock for a lame-duck vote. This guarantees the fighting will not stop on Election Day. It is not enough for Clinton to say she is against TPP; that doesn’t stop it. What stops it is work, putting herself on the front line, calling Democrats and twisting arms and making deals to persuade members of Congress to vote against it. At some point it will have to be Obama vs. Clinton if TPP is to be stopped.

Clinton and the rest of us need to get the 28 Democrats who supported the “fast track” trade promotion authority (TPA) to oppose a vote after the election. These 28 are: Terri Sewell (AL-07); Susan Davis (CA-53); Sam Farr (CA-20); Jim Costa (CA-16); Ami Bera (CA-07); Scott Peters (CA-52); Jared Polis (CO-02); James Himes (CT-04); Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23); Mike Quigley (IL-05); John Delaney (MD-06); Brad Ashford (NE-02); Gregory Meeks (NY-05); Kathleen Rice (NY-04); Earl Blumenauer (OR-03); Kurt Schrader (OR-05); Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01); Jim Cooper (TN-05); Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15); Eddie Johnson (TX-30); Henry Cuellar (TX-28); Beto O’Rourke (TX-16); Gerald Connolly (VA-11); Donald Beyer (VA-08); Rick Larsen (WA-02); Suzan DelBene (WA-01); Derek Kilmer (WA-06); Ron Kind (WI-03).

It may well be that Clinton is waiting until after the election to begin actively working, calling and twisting arms and making deals to kill TPP. Perhaps she feels she can ward off Trump’s accusations that she is only saying she is opposed for votes. Perhaps she is engaged in a balancing act between risking credibility on TPP and not wanting to alienate Obama and his supporters. But after the election, the political game will be about establishing a coalition that supports her, and that means no TPP.

Get updates in your inbox