On the one hand...

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Hillary Can't Waffle on Trade Forever

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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To paraphrase Joe Louis, Hillary Clinton can run but she can't hide from the great trade debate that pits President Barack Obama and a handful of free-trade Democrats against Senator Elizabeth Warren and most of the party in Congress.

Topic A is the emerging Trans-Pacific Partnership, a huge trade deal that would bind the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries.  

As the formidable front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton has raised a few critical questions about TPP, but avoided any specific stance. 

The conventional wisdom is that she'll oppose any trade pact to stay in sync with the vast majority of Democrats. But in an interview Tuesday on the Charlie Rose television program, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, formerly a top Chicago business executive and major player in Democratic politics, predicted Clinton ultimately would support the deal.

Emphasizing that TPP is "good for jobs" -- which its critics dispute -- Pritzker said "that's something that I know Hillary, in the end, will come to recognize." She added that the deal is important "to our presence in Asia," noting that "Secretary of State Clinton was part of the Obama administration's rebalance to Asia."

If Clinton heeds the advice of those she usually listens to on policy, Pritzker may be right.  President Bill Clinton passed the North American Free Trade Agreement and most of the Clinton economic advisers are free traders.

But if she listens to political operatives she may go the other way. Trade deals are very unpopular with Democratic constituencies, and Warren, who commands a big following, is leading the charge against TPP.  She is joined by Senator Bernie Sanders, another declared Democratic presidential candidate, who has been suggesting that TPP may be a defining difference with Clinton. A Democratic strategist close to the Clintons predicts that Sanders, who's trailing well behind the former first lady in polls, would gain 10 or more points if she backed for the trade measure.

Pritzker said she hasn't spoken to Hillary Clinton or her husband about TPP. She also said she wouldn't ask the host of a Clinton fundraiser in Chicago next week to lobby the candidate to support the deal. The host is her brother, J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire venture capitalist.

The interview on the Charlie Rose program aired on PBS Tuesday night; it will be rebroadcast Wednesday evening on Bloomberg Television.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net