Anti-trade Republicans press Trump advantage

Anti-trade Republicans press Trump advantage
© Greg Nash

Republican opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are trying to kill the largest trade deal in U.S. history by invoking Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpEx-ethics chief calls on Trump to end 'monstrous' migrant policies Laura Bush blasts Trump migrant policy as 'cruel' and 'immoral' US denies report of coalition airstrike on Syria MORE.

Noting the vehemence of opposition to the trade deal in Michigan, they argue their party would face a backlash by seeking to move it.

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“The way the votes are going and the way that issue is playing out, it’s becoming more and more clear that it’s a major issue on which people will vote. ... I don’t think Republicans should bring it up,” said Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsLaura Bush blasts Trump migrant policy as 'cruel' and 'immoral' Merkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry DHS secretary defends Trump administration's migrant policies MORE (R-Ala.), the only sitting GOP senator to endorse Trump’s White House bid.

“There’s a growing strength among the people who oppose this agreement, and I think it would be very damaging to the Republican Party to try to jam it through at the last minute after the elections are over.”

Trump rolled to victory in Michigan in part on an anti-trade message and is looking to rack up more wins in Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Missouri and North Carolina on Tuesday.

The anti-globalization message has also won support in the Democratic primary, where Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) Sanders If Congress takes no action, the Social Security trust fund will become depleted in 2034 Ex-campaign manager: Sanders is still eying another presidential bid DNC chair backing plan to cut superdelegates opposed by Dem lawmakers MORE was the upset victor in Michigan over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThere are many unanswered questions about FBI culture FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts offers to testify on Capitol Hill Giuliani wants 'full and complete' investigation into Russia probe's origins MORE.

The opposition to trade is making it less and less likely that the deal negotiated by President Obama will even be considered in the post-election lame-duck session of Congress, when tough votes are sometimes scheduled.

“I doubt seriously it’s going to come up after the election,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), another Republican opponent of the deal. “If you take a look at the bipartisan opposition to the agreement for any number of reasons, it would be highly unlikely that they succeed.”

Republicans in Congress say the political environment has changed dramatically since both chambers voted last year to give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the TPP.

“Who would be arguing for bringing up TPP in a lame-duck session? I don’t think anybody thinks this is a good issue to bring up right now,” said a senior GOP aide. “There seems to be a lot of suspicion of the deal out there across the country. We may be out of touch, but we’re not that out of touch.”

Obama has sought to push back at the anti-trade rhetoric, warning at a joint press conference last week with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that imposing the high tariffs Trump has called for — such as a 45 percent fee on Chinese exports to the United States — would hurt the domestic economy.

“To sell a bill of goods to the American people and workers that if you just shut down trade somehow your problems will go away prevents us from actually solving some of these big problems about inequality and the decline of our manufacturing base,” Obama said.

GOP leaders in both chambers have been cool to the TPP because of separate concerns about the final negotiated deal.

And Clinton, who backed the TPP as Obama’s secretary of State, has now turned against it.

Americans for Limited Government released a poll last week showing that 59 percent of likely Republican voters believe free trade helps other countries more than it does the United States. The survey also found that 66 percent of Republicans oppose the TPP when given arguments for and against it.

“Passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership in a lame-duck would be the most cynical type of politics,” said Rick Manning, the president of Americans for Limited Government.

If the trade deal is scrapped for the entire year, an agreement involving the United States and the 11 other TPP countries, which cover 36 percent of global gross domestic product, may have to be scrapped or substantially renegotiated. 

Supporters of the trade deal argue that fiery rhetoric on trade from Trump and Clinton should give lawmakers and big business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce incentive to get the trade deal passed this year, while Obama is in office.

Some smaller business groups, meanwhile, are piling onto Republicans, warning that any effort to move the TPP after the election will prompt a furious backlash.

“If Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCongress had a good couple of weeks — now let's keep it going McCarthy: 'The Mueller investigation has got to stop' McConnell: Mueller 'ought to wrap it up' MORE tries to jam through the TPP in a lame-duck session, it will be further evidence to confirm Americans’ suspicions that the system is rigged against them,” said Curtis Ellis, executive director of the American Jobs Alliance, referring to the Senate Republican leader from Kentucky.

He argued that it would be hypocritical of McConnell to block action on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee but wave the trade deal through the Senate.

“Why would he let Obama shape the future of this country by giving him the Trans-Pacific Partnership?” he said.