Hillary Clinton suggested Sunday that discontent within the Democratic Party over the potential Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal should lead President Barack Obama to drive a harder bargain.
“Let's take the lemons and turn it into lemonade,” said Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, at a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa.
“The president should listen to and work with his allies in Congress, starting with Nancy Pelosi,” and push a hard bargain for an agreement that does more to protect American workers, she said. “And if we don't get it, there should be no deal.”
House Democrats, led by Pelosi, on Friday blocked legislation to give Obama fast-track negotiating authority in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks. As Obama's secretary of state, Clinton spoke favorably of TPP, but as a presidential candidate, she and her aides have said she wants to see what's in the final deal before taking a position on it.
It's unclear whether Clinton's comments meant she sided with House Democrats' move Friday to block fast-track approval and slow down the TPP talks. Without such negotiating authority, also known as trade promotion authority, analysts say prospects for reaching a final TPP deal would be jeopardized. Spokesman Brian Fallon said on Twitter that her remarks were focused on TPP.
Clinton said that if elected, “no president would be a tougher negotiator” with foreign governments or with congressional Republicans than she would be, and offered Obama some advice. He “actually has this amazing opportunity now” to push a harder bargain in negotiations, she said.
The administration could tell potential trading partners, “Unless you give me more, unless you meet the needs that have been laid out, that my party in Congress have gone and spoken out about and made clear have to be in the deal, we’re not going to have a deal,” she suggested. “But we could have a deal if we made sure that we did everything possible to protect American workers, to raise the wages of American workers, to make sure that it is in our national security interests.”
“What I have advised…is that the president take the opportunity offered by staunch allies like Nancy Pelosi…and try to figure out how to use this as leverage, to go back to the other countries and say: ‘You want a lot out of this. I need more,'” she added in an interview with Radio Iowa Sunday.
During her eight years in the Senate, Clinton voted for and against trade deals. In 2002, she voted against giving trade promotion authority to then-President George W. Bush, though other Democrats supported it.
During Sunday show appearances ahead of Clinton's event, some of her top aides defended her attempt to thread the needle, saying she would weigh in on TPP once the process moved further along and dismissing last week's Capitol Hill action on fast-track as jockeying that means little to the average voter.
“The back and forth that's happening right now is about procedures and parliamentary this and that,” campaign manager Robby Mook said CBS's Face the Nation.
Opponents, meanwhile, jumped on Clinton's careful positioning as evidence that she's most focused on scoring political points on the issue.
“By waffling on a trade deal she helped negotiate and once called a 'gold standard,' Hillary Clinton continues to show why voters overwhelmingly see her as dishonest and untrustworthy,” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short said in an e-mailed statement. “Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, voters are much smarter than she thinks.”
While not explicitly mentioning Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, another Democratic presidential candidate, also chimed in. “It's time for leaders of the Democratic Party to step up and urge Congress not to fast-track this bad trade deal,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized Clinton's comments.