Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats: Where the hell are You? Dodd-Frank ripe for reform, not repeal Senate Dems offer bill to curb tax break for Trump nominees MORE (D-Mass.) is meeting with House Democrats in an effort to push back against President Obama's trade agenda.
The liberal senator met Tuesday with a group of House Democrats before administration officials were to meet with a larger of group of Democrats to discuss the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process, one of the most controversial issues in two trade deals that the Obama administration is negotiating.
Warren was seeking to push back at administration claims in what was described by one source familiar with the meeting as a “strategy session.”
But the administration, centrist Democrats and many Republicans argue the panels help protect U.S. jobs by allowing a forum for U.S. businesses to litigate trade disputes internationally.
The meeting with Warren underscores the deep rift between the Democratic base and the administration on trade and highlights Warren’s growing influence in the House among progressive members.
Liberal Democrats have criticized the administration for holding classified briefings with members and refusing to allow their staffers to attend. Facing the criticism, White House officials loosened their policy earlier this month.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told reporters earlier this month that administration officials were "baffling them with bulls--- rather than providing us the truth" on their trade agenda.
Anti-trade Democrats in the House have harshly criticized the administration’s trade policies, and earlier this month, lashed out at classified briefings over trade. Rhetoric on the issue has also been growing more rancorous.
One former Democratic staffer turned financial services lobbyist compared Warren's involvement in the House to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who frequently meets with House Republicans.
“Elizabeth Warren is the mirror image of Ted Cruz, and if we aren’t careful, she’ll drive the Democrats into the same ditch Cruz is trying to drive the Republicans,” the former Democratic staffer said.
Obama wants Congress to pass trade promotion authority (TPA), or “fast-track” trade authority, which would make it easier for him to negotiate trade deals by preventing them from being amended.
His administration is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) economic trade deal with twelve countries through Congress in Latin America and Asia, as well as a separate deal with the European Union.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), one of the fiercest critics of Obama's trade agenda, helped organize the meeting and Warren's involvement.
She called the TPP “potentially the biggest trade agreement in history. It could affect everything from jobs to wages to food safety to environmental protection to the affordability of medicines.”
“Through ISDS, foreign companies would be allowed to sue governments at the local, state and federal level if they believe that domestic laws and regulations hinder their future profits,” DeLauro told The Hill.
At one point during the meeting, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, tried to speak at the session, according to sources at the meeting.
This led to a moment some described as tense, in which DeLauro and other members asked Levin to let Warren complete her presentation before he continued with his point.
One source familiar with the meeting said “members had come there to hear Sen. Warren.” The source said DeLauro and several other members asked “him to let her complete her briefing before he intervened.”
Sources gave different accounts of how serious the confrontation was between Levin, a former Ways and Means Committee chairman who has long been seen as a leader of House Democrats on trade, and DeLauro.
Trade supporters have, in recent weeks, pushed back against progressives' claims against ISDS panels.
Linda Dempsey, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) vice president for international economic affairs, criticized the progressive trade opponents for using “scare tactics.”
“These panels help enforce the global rule of law,” said Dempsey, who argued that the business community wants businesses to “get the same basic rights they get in the U.S.”
Progressives argue that the administration's briefings are little more than an effort from the administration to ram a deal through Congress.
Administration officials and centrist Democrats have criticized progressives for attempting to block a bipartisan trade deal when no proposal has yet been finalized.
They argue that they've held a series of briefings with senior level officials to discuss the negotiations.
“Instead of scuttling the deal, Democrats should try to make it as strong as possible so we can grow the middle class,” said Jim Kessler, senior vice president of policy at center-left think tank Third Way.