Clinton Camp Refuses to Give Her Position on TPP, Four Times in Two Days
On Friday, the House of Representatives issued a stunning rebuke to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the 12-nation deal that expands corporate and investor commerce rights at the expense of workers and the environment.
However, the fight over the TPP is not over, with the House set to vote once again on the trade adjustment package it rejected on either Monday or Tuesday. There's furious lobbying between public interest groups on one side and corporate firms on the other, with an outcome that is expected to come down to the wire.
One figure who has stayed notably silent on the whole affair is Hillary Clinton. As Secretary of State, Clinton was a negotiator on the agreement, but as a candidate for the president, she has refused to say how she would vote on the Fast Track bill currently before Congress. If the bill passes, passage of the wider agreement is all but certain.
Over the weekend, various Clinton spokespeople were quizzed about her position on the vote in Congress. They all struggled to explain why she refuses to give a position.
Brian Fallon, Clinton spokesman, appeared on MSNBC Saturday and wanted to talk about every issue except the one he was actually asked about:
KORNACKI: Lincoln Chafee, who is going to be one of Hillary Clinton's opponents in the Democratic Primary, said she should take a position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership....so what is the position?
FALLON: So here's what you're going to hear from Hillary Clinton today, she's going to lay out a bold progressive agenda...a series of issues that include college affordability, wage growth, paid leave, early childhood education...
Note that he didn't mention TPP in his response. Kornacki followed up and asked Fallon why Clinton won't take a stand on TPP. Fallon replied that Clinton wants to “see the finalized language,” saying that the vote in Congress was on a procedural issue and not the underlying agreement, which makes little sense because if Fast Track passes, so does the TPP.
Then there was the interview with Clinton media liaison Karen Finney. Finney got into a long argument with Fox News' Chris Wallace, which concluded with her saying “Well, we'll see, won't we?”
FINNEY: Well, I haven't spoken to her about the deal obviously, since what's happened Friday and what's going to happen next week. But, again, you know, this is someone who has voted for trade agreements when she thought they were good for the country, and against trade agreements when she thought they were bad for the country.
And I would just say, Chris -- I mean, there has been maneuvering back and forth about the pieces of the agreement. So, again, she’s looking --
WALLACE: I’m not talking about the agreement. I’m talking --
FINNEY: I under --
WALLACE: Forgive me. I’m talking about giving President Obama the same Fast Track authority that Bill Clinton had on NAFTA. Why would she possibly be against that?
FINNEY: Well, we're talking about it in the context of this agreement, right?
WALLACE: No. No.
FINNEY: We are talking about it in the context of an underlying agreement.
WALLACE: We're talking about in the context of how to negotiate a deal and give it to Congress. Why can't she say whether or not she's for or against it?
FINNEY: But I think you may hear -- again, we're going to talk about a lot of issues. I think you may hear her talk about it sooner rather than later. I’m going to let her be the person to speak about that.
WALLACE: But there's a vote this week in Congress, doesn't she have to weigh in pretty quickly? Because if there's no Fast Track trade authority, the president can't make the deal.
FINNEY: Well, we’ll see, won’t we? We'll see if they decide that she wants to go ahead and, you know, tell us what she wants to say about it.
Watch the exchange:
Then there was her campaign chairman, John Podesta. He appeared on ABC, where he disingenuously claimed that the fight over Fast Track in Congress was a procedural issue (on which Clinton apparently had no opinion):
CHUCK TODD: There was a list of issues that Hillary Clinton rolled out ideas, proposals, but there was one issue she ducked almost completely, just a veiled reference to the issue of trade. She has not wanted to step into this fight between House Dems and President Obama. Why was there no mention of the rift in the party and why has she not taken a position on what is the foremost fight in the Democratic Party right now?
JOHN PODESTA: She has been very clear where she stands on trade, she has laid out a two-part test, how to look at trade agreements. First, does it create jobs, second, does it protect national security? That is her position. She said she wants to wait to see what the final deal is. The Trans-Pacific partnership that is the substance of the trade agreement, what we've seen in the last couple of days is skirmishes around the process of considering that agreement, but the agreement is not final.
Finally, yet another spokesperson, Joel Beneson, appeared on ABC and claimed that the fight over Fast Track is just “Washington inside baseball about how we get there,” as if the vote in the House was meaningless. He also failed to give Clinton's position.
All together, in the span of 48 hours, we've seen four different spokespersons for Clinton appear on television and downplay the votes in Congress over the past week as meaningless procedural measures while ignoring the topic of the underlying deal. One interpretation of this is to say that Clinton is cautiously trying to avoid the issue so as not to anger her donors or potential Democratic primary voters. The other interpretation is that her silence is the best way to assist those who want the agreement to pass.