White House changes tone on trade

White House changes tone on trade

The White House on Wednesday made an aggressive pitch to liberal Democrats, as it worked to salvage President Obama’s trade plan. 

Liberals were emboldened when the Senate failed to advance a trade promotion authority bill on Tuesday, accusing the White House of botching its push to get Democrats on board with a trade push that’s at the top of Obama’s agenda. 

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Press secretary Josh Earnest bristled when asked by a CNN reporter if the White House had botched the politics of trade. 

Many Democrats have taken issue with a number of Obama’s moves, including his pointed criticism of liberal star Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown MORE (D-Mass.) and his decision to hold a major trade rally at the headquarters of Nike, which has faced accusations of exploring foreign workers.

Earnest said a new trade agreement with 12 Pacific Rim nations would boost labor and environmental standards in countries where Nike operates manufacturing facilities.

“What we see from progressives is a lot of complaining about it,” Earnest said. “The president has said: Let's go do something about it.”

The Senate on Wednesday reached a deal to revive Obama’s trade agenda, one day after it suffered a humiliating defeat that shined a spotlight on tensions between Obama and liberal Democrats, including Warren. 

The president and his staff have been aggressive in rebutting criticism from Democrats on trade, repeatedly accusing Warren of spreading “wrong” information, including that the trade deal has been kept secret.

Some Democrats in the House, where the trade bill is expected to face an even harder road to passage, have said the president's criticism of Warren has gone too far. 

“If I was trying to persuade a friend, I wouldn’t start out by saying how deficient they were,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said on C-SPAN.

Knowing it has to win over more Democrats, the White House shifted its tone on the Massachusetts senator. 

Earnest sought to downplay the scope of the Obama-Warren rift, emphasizing they agree on a wide array of issues from Wall Street reform to raising the minimum wage, even though they disagree on trade.

“This doesn’t reflect a difference in values,” he said.

The spokesman dismissed the notion that its aggressive rhetoric toward Democratic critics would undermine its trade push. 

“The president can make the case that advocating the most progressive trade bill ever contemplated by the Congress is entirely consistent with our values as progressives,” Earnest said. “If we care about business and middle class families and workers, we want to engage the world to create more opportunities for American workers here at home. That is exactly what this will do.”