Bill Press: Obama’s big trade mistake

Bill Press: Obama’s big trade mistake
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For President Obama, loss of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the House was a huge defeat and a colossal embarrassment. But it should not have come as a big surprise. In many ways, it was the end result of six years of hanging progressives in his own party out to dry time and again. It’s when the chickens finally came home to roost.

How did a Democratic president wind up facing the opposition of most of his fellow Democrats in Congress? He brought it on himself. 

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First, he tried to push another dubious trade deal on a group of Democratic lawmakers who still regretted voting for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992 — and who knew that a “yes” vote would earn them the wrath of labor unions, which unanimously opposed the TPP trade deal, yet win them no love from Big Business, which would support their Republican opponents anyway.

The president didn’t help matters by insisting on keeping the trade deal top-secret. While the White House angrily denounced those who complained about secrecy, arguing that any member of Congress could read the text of the deal any time they wanted, the reality was quite different. Yes, members of Congress could read the entire 1,000-page document, but they could only do so in a special, secured room, all alone, with no staff or advisers, no cellphone, no pen or paper, no notes — and, of course, they couldn’t take a copy with them.  

Obama’s biggest problem: For six years, congressional Democrats hadn’t felt much love coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. 

On any number of progressive issues, the president stayed on the sidelines, even when the power of the bully pulpit might have made the difference. Democrats also blamed him, in part, for their loss of the House in 2010. Plus they hadn’t been treated by a notoriously aloof Obama to the perks presidents traditionally shower on members of their own party, from receptions, dinners and phone calls to golf games and rides aboard Air Force One. 

When Obama did show up at the Congressional Baseball Game the night before the House vote, a lot of Democrats were asking: “Where’ve you been for the last six years?” The week before the vote, I asked California Rep. Jackie Speier whether Obama had a reservoir of goodwill among House Democrats he could count on. Her candid response: “I can’t say that he does.”  

Some are already saying this proves Democrats don’t care about trade. This is nonsense. Democrats, and labor unions, do care about trade — as long as it’s free trade. In fact, Democratic members of Congress I’ve talked to are willing to consider a new trade deal, as long as it’s not top-secret, prevents currency manipulation, preserves America’s laws, protects American jobs and the environment, and gives Congress more input than simply a yes-or-no vote. 

A trade deal with Asia is possible, in other words, as long as Obama forgets about making deals with Republicans and sits down to work with Democrats in Congress, instead of working against them.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.