Unions want one thing from Hillary tonight: A stake in TPP’s heart

Greg Nash

PHILADELPHIA — Labor unions want Hillary Clinton to put a stake in the heart of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal once and for all on Thursday, when she accepts the Democratic nomination for president at the party’s national convention.

Doing so would cement a significant break for Clinton with President Obama, and labor officials believe it would kill any chance of moving the pact in a lame-duck Congress after the election.

{mosads}Unions have waged an intense pressure campaign this week geared at Clinton, vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine and other Democratic leaders to kill the TPP, the largest trade deal in U.S. history.

While Clinton says she opposes the agreement after initially supporting it, there are lingering concerns, especially after Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is close to the Clintons, predicted she would ultimately sign it into law.

Kaine, a Virginia senator, supported the trade accord as recently as a few weeks ago. He quickly changed his position after being tapped as the vice presidential nominee.

“I would like for her to finish this whole debate about TPP, that would be very important for us. I would like for her to articulate who she will be as president as the United States,” Dennis Williams, president of the United Auto Workers, told The Hill in an interview.

Robert Martinez, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said, “I’d like to hear her come out and say she’s strongly against trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Unions feel they have strong leverage this week as the Clinton campaign has made it a top priority to win over liberals allied with her primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and many of them also feel strongly about killing the TPP.

They have met with lawmakers and delegations from across the country to ensure there aren’t any Democratic defections after the election in case Republican leaders try to bring the trade deal to the floor in December.

“Lots of them — House members, Senate members, governors — I’ve met with the delegations and the delegations are doing the same. We’ve armed them with the facts and they’re going out to their [Senate and House] members,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an interview.

He said the effort has shored up the resolve of Democratic leaders and rank-and-file members.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) announced Tuesday she would oppose it, unifying the Democratic congressional leadership as other leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), have already announced their stances.

McAuliffe rattled labor officials and fellow Democratic colleagues this week when he said Clinton, a longtime friend, would likely flip on the issue.

Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, immediately refuted McAuliffe, who later pulled back his statement.

Labor unions and allied lawmakers were left fuming.

“McAuliffe just talks too much. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about sometimes, and I have no idea why he shot his mouth off but that’s his tendency and I’m very unhappy about it. It hurt his friend the Clintons and he should keep his mouth shut,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Labor leaders and liberals allied with Sanders wanted language in the Democratic platform that stated specific opposition to the TPP, but Obama intervened to keep that sentence out of the draft, according to a labor source familiar with the negotiations.

Out of deference to Obama, the platform committee adopted more general language pledging the party “will oppose trade agreements that do not support good American jobs, raise wages and improve our national security.”

The compromise dismayed pro-labor delegates backing Sanders, who question whether Clinton can be trusted to hold the line against the TPP.

Although Clinton moved to the left during her surprisingly close primary against Sanders, her selection of Kaine raised new worries.

In addition to supporting TPP, Kaine backed Virginia’s right-to-work law, which labor unions abhor, when he served as the state’s governor from 2006 to 2010, and he voted last year to give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals.

“I was stunned. They couldn’t have picked a worse VP pick for progressives and labor people. He supported the right to work legislation as governor of Virginia, he’s pro-TPP,” said Katie Nelson, a labor activist and Bernie delegate.

“I didn’t trust Hillary that she was really going to be there for labor. I don’t trust her on TPP and then she goes and grabs Tim Kaine,” she added. “It confirms what my feelings were.

Nelson said she’s concerned that Clinton will appoint people who are good on social issues but that she will “throw labor under the bus.”

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has tried this week to exploit mistrust within the Democratic ranks toward Clinton’s trade views.

Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser to Trump, on Wednesday called Clinton and Kaine “corporatists and globalists.”

“They will approve TPP, protect NAFTA, enable China and destroy the U.S. middle class — causing the most harm to Latino and African-American workers,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the only member of the Senate who endorsed Sanders, said Clinton should use her Thursday speech to clear up the lingering uncertainty over her trade stance.

“I’m really hoping she’ll articulate that when you give a huge advantage over American manufacturers, that the foreign manufacturers are going to thrive and the American manufacturers are going to be hurt and that’s going to result in the loss of millions of American jobs,” he said.

He said Clinton should also address currency manipulation and speak out against investor-state dispute settlement programs, such as the one included in the TPP, that allow companies to resolve claims through an international arbitration panel instead of a domestic court.

Senior labor leaders have had to defend Clinton this week from the grumbling of rank-and-file members.

Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America, said the trade language in the platform was better than what was originally contemplated.

“The language before was so bad that there was no way we could go forward with that language,” he said.

Other labor leaders defended Kaine as someone who was a strong ally while in the governor’s mansion, despite his professed support for the law.

Williams, of the UAW, said, “I know the Right to Work Committee was angry with him when he was governor because he put some very strong labor folks on committees.”

The conservative National Right to Work Committee in 2012 dubbed him a “friend of labor bosses.”

Trumka had conversations in the past week to nail down his view on massive trade deals.

“I know where Hillary’s at and I know where Tim Kaine’s going to be at. Tim Kaine’s going to be right where the president’s at,” he said.

If Hillary takes a strong stand against the TPP on Thursday, it will be easier for Trumka and other labor leaders to sell their members on her candidacy.

“All she’s got to say is what she’s been saying: She’s against TPP,” Trumka said.

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Harry Reid Hillary Clinton Jeff Merkley Sherrod Brown Tim Kaine

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