Hillary takes a confusing non-position on TPP

In the wake of House Democrats defeating a key measure necessary to the eventual passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Hillary Clinton finally weighed in on the issue, which has been splitting the Democratic Party in recent months.

Well, kinda:

As Clinton said in her remarks, quoted by POLITICO:

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 to make sure we get the best strongest deal possible…And if we don’t get it, there should be no deal.

Clinton presumably went on to reiterate that she likes good things and doesn’t like bad things, and would as president do everything in her power to secure good things for the American people.

POLITICO pointed out that the statement was the “most specific assessment of the policy debate so far” that we have seen from Clinton, which isn’t saying much. Furthermore, aside from being not-at-all specific as to where she comes down on trade, her admonishment for President Obama to “work with his allies in Congress” betrays a willful ignorance of how trade deals are negotiated. And being a former Secretary of State, she should know better.

Hillary Clinton, via Roger H. Goun / Flickr

Hillary Clinton, via Roger H. Goun / Flickr

There are a lot of good reasons to be really suspicious about the relative merits of the trade deal currently being hashed out — in secret — by the United States Trade Representative. However, for those in favor of the “strongest deal possible,” as opposed to those who are in favor of no deal at all, lack of congressional input is not on the list of relevant concerns. The other countries at the table in these trade negotiations — or in any trade negotiations, for that matter — aren’t going to deliberate with a representative who has to pause every step of the way and run line items by legislative bodies back home.

This is why the fight over Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as “fast track,” is so important. By passing TPA, Congress would be abdicating the right to make amendments to any trade agreement that emerged, guaranteeing that the agreement only receives an up or down vote. Without this in place, it will be nearly impossible for the other countries involved to sign on to any agreement, since the deal they make at the negotiating table won’t necessarily be the deal the United States approves. In other words, block TPA and you’ve likely killed TPP altogether.

So if Hillary Clinton is interested in getting the “strongest deal possible,” she can’t also be for getting Nancy Pelosi more involved in the negotiating process, at least not in the way she implied in her answer. The only way to get a deal through, let alone a strong one, is to leave Pelosi out of the negotiating process, pass TPA and give whatever agreement the administration comes up with an up-or-down vote. If you don’t trust the GOP-controlled Congress to vote TPP down if it turns out to be a bad deal (and you shouldn’t), then throw your weight behind those who are blocking the necessary procedural steps and stop pretending that you’re in favor of getting any deal at all.

As Secretary of State, Clinton should understand how this process works, which makes her non-answer even more transparent and empty.

For her part, Nancy Pelosi was instrumental in the TPP’s legislative defeat last week, but has expressed an interest in trading her support for the family of trade bills in exchange for Republican support for a highway bill. Unlikely, to say the least.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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