Elizabeth Warren Joins California Democrats in Opposing Trade Deal

The annual convention of the largest state party reveals rifts in the Democratic base.

DE BLASIO STIGLITZ

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, speaks during a Roosevelt Institute event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, May 12, 2015.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

For a few hours on Saturday morning, a convention center near Disneyland became the hub of opposition to President Barack Obama's authority to negotiate an Asia-Pacific trade deal.

Outside California's Anaheim Convention Center, union members chanted slogans against the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and unfurled a banner reading: “Tell Congress to support American trade. Not unfair trade.” Inside, Senator Elizabeth Warren rallied California Democratic Party activists with a speech that criticized the pact as a gift to corporations.

The annual convention of the largest state party revealed rifts in the Democratic base, as many activists parted ways with Obama over the trade pact. The California Democratic Party is on record opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Some activists said they would prefer a progressive candidate like Warren to challenge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton has not articulated a definitive position on the trade deal. Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist who joined the primary contest last month, opposes Obama's trade agenda.

“Of all the candidates running, Elizabeth Warren is the only one I have any faith in,” said Donna Gilmore of San Clemente in Orange County, who said she expects Warren to seek the nomination even though the Massachusetts senator has said she's not interested. “This should not be a secret. Obama is saying it will be better for us. I voted for Obama but that doesn't mean I take everything he says on blind faith.”

Gilmore, wearing a “Run Warren Run” hat, had harsher words for Clinton: “I don't know why she isn't running as a Republican, to be honest.”

Warren devoted only three sentences of her 15-minute address to about 2,000 California Democrats to the trade deal. That portion of her speech drew the loudest applause.

“Corporations shouldn't be allowed to dominate secret trade negotiations,” she said. “Before Congress votes on any trade deal, we want to see that trade deal out in public and we're willing to fight for it.” 

On May 14, with most Democrats opposed, the Senate voted to move forward on a bill to grant Obama and his successor authority to fast-track trade deals. Obama has said the authority is vital to wrapping up negotiations on the TPP agreement, which would cover about 40 percent of the world's commerce.

The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest federation of labor unions, called on Democrats to insist the fast-track bill incorporate legislation that would give the Commerce Department new powers to penalize imports from countries that manipulate the value of their currency.

Warren has warned fellow Democrats that a fast-track trade bill could undo U.S. laws such as the Dodd-Frank banking regulations. She didn't make that argument during her speech in Anaheim.

She was greeted by supporters wearing red-white-and-blue “Warren for President” hats and carrying signs that simply read: “RUN.”

Party Chairman John Burton urged activists to sign petitions and call on their elected representatives to vote against the deal. 

“We will be, as my grandmother would say, pissing uphill,” Burton said. “We just have to let them know in the White House, we don't like it.”

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