Albright, Powell Back Trade Deal for U.S. Security, Obama Says

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Why Is Obama Working So Hard on Trade Deal?
  • Bipartisan national security officials meet at White House
  • Session caps week of Obama sales pitches on Pacific trade pact

Flanked by top diplomats from past presidential administrations, President Barack Obama said that a sweeping trade deal he has negotiated with Asia-Pacific nations is vital to U.S. national security and Congress should pass it as soon as possible.

Obama met Friday with former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Colin Powell and Henry Kissinger to promote the 12-nation trade pact, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Afterward, he said, the diplomats “believe our prosperity and our national security cannot be separated.”

Other former officials at the meeting included former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who both served under Republican presidents.

“One thing we all agreed on as we discussed the issue today is if we fail to get the Trans Pacific Partnership, if we do not create the architecture for high standards for this region, then that void will be filled by China, it will be filled by our economic competitors,” Obama told reporters. “They will make the rules and the rules will not be to our advantage. So the time is for us to get this done.”

Obama has spent the week before leaving Washington for back-to-back summit meetings in Turkey, the Philippines and Malaysia making a case for the trade accord. The text of the deal was released last week and Congress is likely to vote on it early next year. Obama has described the agreement, covering about 40 percent of global commerce, as a top priority of his second term.

Fragile Coalition

On Tuesday, the president penned an op-ed for Bloomberg View arguing the accord would benefit working-class families by improving wages. On Thursday, he posted a direct letter to sellers on the online auction site eBay Inc., describing what he said were benefits of the trade deal for small businesses trying to sell products overseas.

Obama must hold together a fragile coalition in favor of the trade deal, which has been attacked by labor unions as bad for American workers and by the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries, which have argued that it doesn’t adequately protect their interests.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on a conference call with reporters on Thursday that the administration is working with Congress to chart out timing for a vote.

“The president made clear he’d like to get this done as early as possible next year and we’re going to consult with Congress about what the most appropriate time is to bring it forward for a vote,” Froman said.

The administration’s margin of error is small. The House approved legislation promising Obama an up-or-down vote on the trade package by a 10-vote margin in June. The bill got 60 votes in the Senate.

New House Speaker Paul Ryan so far hasn’t signaled whether he will support the deal. The Wisconsin Republican was integral to corralling Republican support for the fast-track bill over the summer.

Democrats supporting the bill will do so knowing that all three of the candidates vying for their party’s nomination, including front-runner Hillary Clinton, have come out against the agreement.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told the conference call Thursday that she disagreed with the 2016 contenders about the trade deal.

“The Asia Pacific region is the fastest-growing middle class in the world," she said. "Our companies need to have access to those markets to remain competitive."

(An earlier version of this story was corrected to fix the spelling on Albright’s first name)

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