The Republican Party, which has long backed free trade, is poised to support slowing down approval of trade agreements with Donald Trump as its presumptive presidential nominee.
A party platform subcommittee on the economy, jobs and debt voted on Monday in Cleveland to recommend language that significant trade agreements should not be rushed or undertaken in a lame-duck Congress. It also removed a reference to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement at the request of members who oppose it and didn’t want any suggestion of support. The full Platform Committee, meeting in advance of the party’s convention next week, will vote on the provision either late Monday or Tuesday.
The 2012 Republican platform called international trade “crucial for our economy” and said a Republican president will complete negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open Asian markets to U.S. products. Trump’s stringent opposition to trade deals such as TPP -- which he has called “a rape of our country” -- pits him against some party stalwarts and pro-business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“I expected it to be contentious and it wasn’t,” Andrew Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc. and co-chairman of the subcommittee, said about the debate on trade. “People all seemed to be going toward the same goal here, which is to get our candidate elected.”
Democrats stopped short of calling for a "no" vote on TPP during their platform committee meetings this weekend. Delegates for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders unsuccessfully pushed an amendment blocking TPP and urged that the trade deal not come to a vote in Congress.
The Republican Platform Committee sessions on Monday and Tuesday and Rules Committee later in the week are offering the first signs of how much turbulence Trump will face on his convention flight to the Republican presidential nomination on July 21.
Anti-Trump delegates are trying change party rules so that delegates who are bound by election results to back Trump can “vote their conscience” in Cleveland. Critics of the effort say that plan lacks the votes it needs and would thwart the will of about 13.3 million people who voted for Trump in the party’s primaries and caucuses.
Puzder, a Trump supporter whose company owns the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food chains, said he backs free trade and that there’s no disagreement that the U.S. needs it. Yet Trump regularly states that the country doesn’t need large trade deficits, that existing deals should be enforced, and that they can be improved with better terms has broad appeal.
“Who can argue with, ‘We should have a better deal?”’ Puzder asked in an interview. “It has emerged in this election cycle that free trade is not the overwhelming popular issue it used to be because working-class Americans and middle-class Americas -- whether accurately or inaccurately -- perceive that they have borne the burdens of free trade, whereas other sectors of the economy have garnered the benefits.”
David Johnson, a member of the platform committee’s economic subcommittee, owns Summitville Tiles in eastern Ohio and said trade deals have decimated his company. It once had 800 workers and now is struggling to maintain 150, he said.
“Wall Street likes TPP, but the 70 percent of the people that are employed in this country by small businesses don’t like it,” Johnson said during the subcommittee meeting. He called trade a huge issue in the election as Trump seeks to appeal to working-class voters in states such as Ohio.
Johnson was a strong supporter of Ohio Governor John Kasich during the presidential primaries and said he’s now “100 percent” behind Trump. He thinks other Republicans will be if they consider what’s at stake if Democrats control appointments to the Supreme Court and matters such as regulations passed by executive order.
“If you want more of that, then go ahead and sit home,” Johnson said. “Make you feel good, end up losing the country because you’re not happy and totally supportive of who the nominee is. So I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Puzder also said that if the experience on his subcommittee is any indication, he doesn’t think there will other major controversies in the Platform Committee.
“People really came together and understood we need to defeat Hillary Clinton, that that would be a disaster for the country if she were elected president,” he said.