Senator Elizabeth Warren said Congress should demand that President Barack Obama release the draft text of a trade agreement with Asian-Pacific nations before handing him fast-track authority.
“We’re being asked to grease the skids for a deal that’s basically done but is being held in secret until after this vote,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg Television.
Raising questions about the transparency of negotiations is part of a multipronged attack Warren is making on trade as Obama tries to advance deals with Pacific Rim nations and the European Union before he leaves office. The issue has put the two of them, allies in the past, at odds and sparked a back-and-forth debate through public statements.
The draft text for the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Obama is negotiating with 11 other nations is being kept shielded from the public. Members of Congress and others designated by the White House are only allowed to view it at a secure location and aren’t allowed to take notes or disclose the provisions.
Warren dismissed Obama’s assurances that the trade deals will protect workers and won’t weaken U.S. financial and environmental regulations.
“Presidents, Democrat and Republican, for over 20 years now on every trade deal negotiated have said basically the same thing,” Warren said.
She released a report Monday arguing that the U.S. has consistently failed to enforce rules promoting labor rights abroad in past trade agreements.
Obama responded in a statement today by promising that any accord will protect U.S. workers and improve labor conditions in other nations. “I have made rigorous trade enforcement a central pillar of U.S. trade policy,” he said.
Warren is leading the opposition to fast-track legislation under consideration in the Senate this week that would give Congress only a straight up-or-down vote on trade deals for the next six years and remove lawmakers’ ability to amend them or block them by a Senate filibuster.
The measure is moving toward passage in the Republican-majority Senate. While Republicans have control of the House, passage there isn’t assured.
Critics of the trade measure have sought numerous changes, including provisions to address currency manipulation by foreign trade partners, safeguards for labor rights and environmental regulations, and protections against using trade accords to weaken financial regulations passed in the wake of the 2008 market collapse.
Warren is proposing an amendment that would prevent any deal that would potentially weaken the Dodd-Frank financial regulations from being eligible for consideration under fast track.
The White House has tried to fend off some of the changes, including threatening a veto if the legislation includes the currency provisions.
“Our trading partners have made it clear that they will not join a trade agreement that includes enforceable currency provisions,” Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in a letter to Senate leaders released by the Treasury Tuesday.
Warren has become the Democratic Party’s most prominent critic of trade legislation. She declined to respond to criticism from the president, who has called her “absolutely wrong” on trade.
“For me this is not personal,” she said. “This is basically what I’ve worked on all my life: what’s been happening to America’s middle class. This trade deal is part of it.”
The trade debate is bleeding into the 2016 presidential campaign as well. Warren wouldn’t say whether she would endorse Hillary Clinton if the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination takes a different stand on the Pacific trade pact.
“What I think you’re asking me is does this matter to me?” Warren responded. “The answer is it matters to millions of workers across this country.”
Clinton has repeatedly avoided taking a stand on the Trans-Pacific Partnership accord.
“I have said I want to judge the final agreement,” she said during a roundtable discussion at a bicycle shop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “I have been for trade agreements. I have been against trade agreements.”