NEW YORK – The Obama administration is betting on a stealth plan to secure final passage of the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, before Obama leaves office by pushing the bill through Congress in the “lame duck” session between Election Day Nov. 8, and Jan. 6, 2017, the date the new Congress is sworn in, despite growing voter opposition that now has Hillary Clinton joining Donald Trump in opposing the bill.
Tactically, the Obama administration has decided to postpone a TPP vote until after the election, concerned that pushing TPP passage now would risk damaging Clinton’s chances, given her enthusiastic support for TPP during her tenure as secretary of state.
The push to pass TPP is consistent with a New York Times report published Sunday by Mark Landler in his “White House Letter,” indicating President Obama plans to travel this week to North Carolina, where he joins Hillary Clinton, campaigning with her for the first time this year; and to Europe, where he joins Britain’s lame-duck prime minister David Cameron, who ended his political career opposing Brexit.
In both trips, Obama is expected to press the globalist message that “Americans and Europeans must not forsake their open, interconnected societies for the nativism and nationalism preached by Donald J. Trump or Britain’s Brexiteers.”
Hillary flip-plops over free trade
Donald Trump has asserted in recent speeches that if he were elected president, he would “rip up TPP on his first day in office,” but that Clinton, despite her recently expressed opposition to TPP, would “immediately approve” what Trump charges is a “lopsided and decidedly anti-American deal.”
Trump has recently begun challenging journalists daring them to ask Clinton if she is willing to withdraw from the TPP in her first day in office, and whether she would unconditionally rule out passing TPP in any form.
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On Oct. 7, in an interview with PBS’s “News Hour,” Clinton displayed her political hypocrisy over free trade, not only by coming out against TPP that she had supported as secretary of state, but opposing the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement that she endorsed and lobbied Congress to pass while at the State Department.
During her 2008 presidential run Clinton opposed a free-trade deal with Columbia, saying: “I oppose the deal. I have spoken out against the deal, I will vote against the deal, and I will do everything I can to urge Congress to reject the Columbia Free Trade Agreement.”
But emails released in February made clear that as secretary of state, Clinton was lobbying Democratic members of Congress to support free trade deal in Panama and South Korea, as well as Colombia, with her assistant Huma Abedin writing Secretary Clinton emails advising her on how to lobby various Democratic members of Congress to win over their support.
“We cannot put globalization genie back in the bottle”
Last week, in a speech to the Cato Institute in Washington, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said he was finding a “very receptive” audience on Capitol Hill and, despite the legislation being opposed the presidential candidate political parties, he is feeling “very confident” he will have the votes to pass TPP during the post-election lame duck session.
“The good news is that, as I meet with Members of Congress, they are increasingly appreciating the benefits of the agreement and the costs of delay,” Froman said.
He acknowledged public opposition, but he insisted the elite position of professional economists and politicians overrode the failure to understand the importance of passing TPP, as displayed by an increasing number of those planning to vote in November this year.
“Now, there is a great deal of anxiety among the American people, evident in the current election dynamic, not to mention across much of the developed world, and Dan referred to that in his introduction,” Froman said, condescending to his understanding of popular opinion.
“There is concern that other countries don’t follow the same rules we do, but instead act unfairly; that the benefits of growth have not been broadly shared; that the system is rigged in favor of the few,” he continued.
“It is important that we not ignore these concerns,” he said tactically. “They are real and legitimate. The question is what to do about them.”
What we should do, Froman explained, was to avoid giving into the petty nationalism and sophomoric populism expressed in the recent Brexit vote resolving that the U.K. should exit the European Union.
Instead, Froman suggested, the solution was to understand that while globalism was inevitable, the U.S. must take the lead by passing TPP before Obama leaves the White House, continuing the process of opening up U.S. markets through TPP to an extent never before imaginable.
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“Globalization is a fact made possible by the containerization of shipping, the spread of broadband, and the opening of countries like China and Eastern Europe that used to be closed to the global economy and are now part of it,” he insisted. “Globalization is a force; you can’t just wish it away or put the genie back in the bottle.”
“We start from the fact that the U.S. already has one of the world’s most open economies in the world, in large part because of decisions made decades ago – and supported by 12 Presidents, six Democrats and six Republicans,” Froman said in conclusion. “If the United States were to turn inward, the results would be economically devastating. History has proven beyond a doubt that protectionism doesn’t work.”
Obama administration “fully invested” in passing TPP
In his Cato speech, Froman noted the Obama administration was planning a final push before Obama leaves office to pitch one more time to the Americans the virtues of globalism.
On TPP, Froman made clear the administration’s goal is “to do everything possible to reach an agreement this year, with the administration unwilling after the Brexit vote to abandon completely the European version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, known by the acronym TTIP.
Just last week, Froman noted, his office met with European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, making “good, accelerate progress” toward keeping TTIP on track despite the Brexit vote.
Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City last June about the future of the TPP and the importance of U.S. engagement in defining trade rules in the Asia-Pacific region, Froman was the first administration official to acknowledge that the administration is working on the implementing bill, despite then-growing evidence that Democratic Party politicians running for election this year, including Hillary Clinton, were increasingly concerned behind closed doors to sidestep this issue.
Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations, Froman highlighted that there is “a certain urgency” to get TPP done this year because the speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader and the president are all pro-trade but warned “that all could be different a year from now.”
He noted that President Obama is “fully invested” in pushing for a TPP vote this year.
“We have a whole White House, whole cabinet effort underway with hundreds of events around the country by cabinet and sub-cabinet officials,” he said, stressing that he was working quietly with Congress to find solutions that do not require reopening or renegotiating the TPP free trade deal.