The Trans-Pacific Partnership Is Making for Strange Political Bedfellows

On this issue, some Republicans back President Obama and some Democrats don't.

A man cycles past the CSCK Indian Ocean container ship, operated by China Shipping Container Lines Co., during loading operations at the Eurogate GmbH & Co. KGaA KG shipping terminal at Hamburg port in Hamburg, Germany, on Tuesday, June 2, 2015.

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

In a case of strange bedfellows, many Republican presidential hopefuls are allying with President Barack Obama on his major trade initiative. Stranger yet, some Republican contenders are attacking Hillary Clinton for not supporting the president.

The trade pact, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, is still being negotiated between the Obama administration and about a dozen countries, and is strongly supported by Republican leaders. Approval requires two stages—first Congress must pass a vehicle, called Trade Promotion Authority or TPA, which then allows Congress to have a final up-or-down vote (no amendments, no filibusters) on the deal the president ultimately negotiates.

The Senate approved TPA by a vote of 62-37 on May 22. The House may vote as early as Friday, and it's unclear if the votes are there, given broad Democratic opposition and some conservative skepticism about giving Obama authority to fast-track the trade pact. The issue has long united populist factions on the left and right in opposition, and that same dynamic appears to be playing out in the White House race, with candidates in both parties on both sides of the issue.

Here's where the 2016 presidential hopefuls stand. 

Republicans

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush: Yes

Bush, who is poised to announce his candidacy on Monday, endorsed the trade deal in an April 22 post online. "I have no problem supporting TPP," he wrote, arguing that it would boost the economy and strengthen alliances "throughout the Pacific region."

He denounced Clinton for having "wavered" on the deal since she spoke favorably about it in 2012, as secretary of state. "It sends a terrible signal this late in the negotiations," Bush wrote, "for Secretary Clinton to pull the rug out from under our allies for a short-term political gain."

Florida Senator Marco Rubio: Yes

Rubio voted for TPA, and has supported TPP on the ground that it "will allow us to further unite our economies, creating commerce and business opportunities for millions throughout North America, South America, and Asia."

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on May 13, Rubio also went after Clinton on the issue. "Those such as Secretary Clinton, who preach a message of international engagement and smart power, yet are not willing to stand up to special interests and support free trade, are either hypocritical or they fail to grasp trade's role," he said. Environmentalists and labor unions, key components of the Democratic coalition, are among the leading opponents of the trade deal.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: Yes

On June 2 in Orlando, Walker told reporters he's "a strong advocate for free and open trade" because "it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for us not to be competitive globally." Echoing Obama, he portrayed the deal as good for American workers.

Walker backed the fast-track authority and attempted to assuage conservative fears, arguing it would "allow the Republican-controlled Congress to hold this president accountable for presenting a bad trade agreement" by letting them vote it down.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz: Yes

Cruz voted to pass TPA, saying that although he has "serious concerns about the all-too-typical Washington backroom deals that enabled this bill to get to the floor, I could not in good conscience vote against a bill whose most significant impacts will be jobs, growth, and opportunity for struggling American families."

With trademark rhetorical dexterity, he said in a statement that trade is needed for Americans who are getting "crushed by the Obama economy," and even managed to swipe Jimmy Carter for good measure.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul: Leaning No

Paul was the only presidential candidate to vote against the Senate TPA bill, though he kept the door open just a bit to support a final trade agreement.

"I still might vote for the trade agreement, but I hate giving up power," Paul said on May 11 in Manchester, New Hampshire, according to local station WMUR. "We give up so much power from Congress to the presidency, and with them being so secretive on the treaty, it just concerns me what’s in the treaty."

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson: No

Carson told the Huffington Post that he "would not give" Obama fast-track authority. "I think free trade is a wonderful thing, but I think it needs to be done the right way," he said.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry: Leaning No

Perry's views have shifted. In early May, he embraced TPP as a spokesman told Breitbart.com, a conservative website, that "Governor Perry has always supported free trade" and "believes America can achieve robust economic growth and job creation ... with trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership."

But after some reported tea party criticism, he told an Iowa audience in mid-May that he "would rather Barack Obama not be negotiating for me right now," according to the Texas Tribune. "Until the public and Congress are comfortable that they know what's in this trade agreement, I'm not going to recommend that they sign it."

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum: Leaning No

Santorum reaffirmed his skepticism of the TPP in a June 7 appearance on Fox News Sunday and noted that he voted against NAFTA while in Congress. He said TPP provisions "ignore some of the bigger problems, which is non-tariff barriers, like for example currency manipulation. Those are things that we have to start looking [at] and doing old style trade deals in a new style world in which the countries use lots of different things to disadvantage us."

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee: No

"I'm sick of America’s workers getting punched in the gut," Huckabee, a former Fox News host, wrote on his website May 12. "We don’t create good jobs for Americans by entering into unbalanced trade deals that forgo congressional scrutiny and ignore the law only to import low-wage labor, undercut American workers, and drive wages lower than the Dead Sea." He added that "Republicans must NEVER again give Obama more power."

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham: Yes

Graham has been relatively quiet on the issue, but he did vote to give President Obama trade-promotion authority.

Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina: Leaning No

Fiorina said in May that she was "very uncomfortable with this deal," according to the Daily Caller, a conservative website. "Obama and his administration have demonstrated their inability to negotiate a good deal. And so, look, I think the devil’s in the details, and we better understand what these details are before we just assume it’s a good deal. I don't assume it’s a good deal." 

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal: No

Jindal told told Iowa Public Television in May that he supported both free trade and trade-promotion authority generally, but that he opposed giving Obama authority in the deal, claiming he'd make it a "back door" for changing immigration or environmental policy. "I don't trust this president, quite frankly," Jindal, who has not declared a run, said. "I don't want to give him additional power."

Ohio Governor John Kasich: Leaning Yes

Kasich, who has not officially declared his candidacy but has recently been making noteworthy moves in that direction, has hedged his bets, but appears to support a deal. "I'm for open" trade, he told a Washington audience in April, "but I want to make sure the workers in this country are protected."

(Note: Neither New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a potential candidate, nor former New York Governor George Pataki appear to have weighed in on TPP publicly. Bloomberg contacted both men's staff to ask if they have a position on the trade deal but so far have not received a reply.)

Democrats

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Maybe

Clinton has left plenty of room to support or oppose the eventual trade pact.

In mid-April, her campaign spokesman Nick Merrill released a statement saying she would only support the trade deal if it passed two tests: "First, it should put us in a position to protect American workers, raise wages and create more good jobs at home. Second, it must also strengthen our national security. We should be willing to walk away from any outcome that falls short of these tests."

One month later in Iowa, she criticized a provision in the emerging trade agreement that she said could give "corporations more power to overturn health and environmental and labor rules than consumers have." But she didn't take a firm position. "I want to judge the final agreement," she said, according to CNN. "I have been for trade agreements; I have been against trade agreements."

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders: Hell No

The self-described "democratic socialist" has repeatedly and emphatically denounced the agreement as he seeks the Democratic nomination. "I'm adamantly against it," he said on the Bill Press radio show on April 30, the same day he announced his candidacy. "What we need is a new set of trade policies that work for working people in our country and working people abroad and not just multinationals‎."

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley: No

O'Malley has firmly opposed the emerging trade deal. "We should not be engaging in a race to the bottom with bad trade deals like TPP that could kill jobs. Period," he wrote in a May 12 email to supporters. Since then, he has announced his presidential candidate and continued to highlight his opposition to TPP while portraying himself as a progressive fighter.

Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb: No

"VOTE AGAINST FAST TRACK" Webb, who has not declared a run, tweeted May 10, saying his concern was the lack of transparency in the process. "Show everyone the TPP Agreement before such a vote. There is no rush on passage."

Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee: Leaning Yes

While announcing his presidential candidacy, Chafee said an agreement that addressed labor standards, environmental concerns, and currency manipulation was part of his goal of "waging peace." "The Trans-Pacific Partnership has the potential to set fair guidelines fro the robust commerce taking place in the Pacific Rim," he said on June 3 in Virginia.

—Mark Niquette contributed reporting from Columbus.

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