Obama trade deal taking a hit in presidential race

Obama trade deal taking a hit in presidential race
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers say harsh criticism leveled against President Obama’s Pacific Rim trade agreement from presidential candidates in both parties is further complicating its passage.

The stinging rhetoric against the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) comes on top of other challenges and could stifle what is already expected to be a difficult process.

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“We knew once we got into the primary season both for members running in their primaries and the presidential primaries that it was going to make it difficult politically,” said Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles William BoustanyPartial disengagement based on democratic characteristics: A new era of US-China economic relations Lobbying world March tariff increase would cost 934K jobs, advocacy group says MORE Jr. (R-La.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee who backs the deal.

“So we have that and we have the problems we’re trying to resolve in the finalized agreement so it’s all going to delay things,” he added.

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyJudge issues nationwide injunction against Postal Service changes House panel advances bill to ban Postal Service leaders from holding political positions Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' MORE (Va.), one of the two dozen or so House Democrats backing the deal, also said the rhetoric from the 2016 field is complicating progress on the TPP.

“If we had people out there campaigning in favor of it, it would provide some protective cover here, give us a little safe place to go now and then,” Connolly told The Hill.

“Beating the drums in opposition out there in any way, shape or form certainly doesn’t help the climate here,” he said. 

The United States and 11 partner nations signed the TPP in Auckland, New Zealand, last week, but it is unclear if the deal will be considered by Congress this year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Senate GOP aims to confirm Trump court pick by Oct. 29: report Trump argues full Supreme Court needed to settle potential election disputes MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Senate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  MORE (R-Utah) say the sweeping agreement probably won’t come up for consideration until after the November elections, and could even get pushed into 2017. 

Hatch argued the TPP’s legislative process will be lengthy regardless of the opposition rippling through the electoral landscape.

“It’s always been hard, there’s nothing easy about that [passing trade deals],” Hatch told The Hill.  

“So we’ll just have to when we can do it. It’s always going to be hard because the vast majority of Democrats are against this even though it’s their president.”

Democrats are under pressure to oppose the deal because of opposition from unions and other liberal groups.

A number of business constituencies, including pharmaceutical companies, also have deep reservations about the deal. That has left Republicans lukewarm at best toward the agreement.

The fiery backlash against the president’s trade agenda coming from the 2016 field only makes a congressional fight less attractive. Opponents are arguing that the controversial trade deal would lower U.S. jobs and wages, a message that is resonating with some voters. 

Republican presidential hopeful Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate MORE has vowed to kill the TPP, calling it a “terrible one-sided deal,” while Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump argues full Supreme Court needed to settle potential election disputes Press: Notorious RBG vs Notorious GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy MORE, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, has recently ramped up his anti-trade rhetoric. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers Democrats step up hardball tactics as Supreme Court fight heats up Press: Notorious RBG vs Notorious GOP MORE, who has railed against the president’s economic policies, has yet to take a position on the TPP, although he did back fast-track authority last summer. 

On the Democratic side, Bernie SandersBernie SandersButtigieg stands in as Pence for Harris's debate practice Bernie Sanders warns of 'nightmare scenario' if Trump refuses election results Harris joins women's voter mobilization event also featuring Pelosi, Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda MORE has pledged to dismantle Obama’s trade agenda if elected.

“As your president, not only will I make sure that the TPP does not get implemented, I will not send any trade deal to Congress that will make it easier for corporations to outsource American jobs overseas,” he said last week during an event in New Hampshire.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonButtigieg stands in as Pence for Harris's debate practice Senate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot Poll: 51 percent of voters want to abolish the electoral college MORE also opposes the TPP, even though she supported it as Obama’s secretary of State.

Rep. Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertWashington Rep. Kim Schrier wins primary Mail ballot surge places Postal Service under spotlight Bottom Line MORE (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Trade Subcommittee, chalked up most of the critical trade talk to election-year political posturing.

He said he’s convinced that the next president can be persuaded to back a robust trade agenda.

“I’m hopeful that whoever is elected that when they come into office, we can sit down with the Ways and Means Committee, the [trade] ambassador and the new president and I’m sure we’ll be able to convince them the importance of trade and how important it is to the economy and how it does grow jobs,” he told The Hill. 

In the meantime, however, lawmakers wanting to move the TPP this year will have to endure criticism from the campaign trail.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Romney undecided on authorizing subpoenas for GOP Obama-era probes Congress needs to prioritize government digital service delivery MORE (R-Ohio), a former U.S. Trade Representative who faces a tough reelection campaign, said Thursday that he “cannot support the TPP in its current form because it doesn’t provide that level playing field.” 

Portman’s opposition is perhaps the best symbol yet of the difficulty faced by trade supporters. That a former U.S. trade representative is opposing the deal speaks volumes to the perceived dangers of tackling the issue this year.

Kevin Madden, a former adviser to Republican presidential campaigns, is urging pro-TPP candidates to get out front and tout the economic and national security benefits of the deal in an effort to better navigate any potential congressional complications. 

“In this environment right now we’re combating the anti-trade talk with the facts,” he said.