Trade deal looms large for 2016

The 2016 presidential field is all over the map when it comes to a massive trade agreement recently struck between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

Negotiators announced finalized terms for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Monday, concluding nearly six years of talks.

Congress will have the chance early next year to vote on the trade deal, but the accord already looms large in the race to replace President Obama.

{mosads}The reaction from the 2016 field to the trade talks has been a complex one. Democrats have felt significant pressure from environmental groups and labor unions fiercely opposed to the accord. Meanwhile, Republican candidates have struggled to strike a balance between support for free trade in general and the mistrust among GOP voters toward granting Obama more power on anything.

With the announcement of a completed deal full of complex details just hours old, candidates have been slow to chime in on the matter. But indications of their overall trade stance could be seen in the heated summer battle in Congress over trade promotion authority (TPA), which narrowly passed and gave Obama the “fast-track” authority necessary to finalize the pact.

The TPA legislation approved by Congress allows the president, for the next six years, the ability to finalize terms of trade agreements with foreign partners, giving Congress just the ability to vote up or down on a final deal.

When serving as secretary of State under Obama, Hillary Clinton was a vocal advocate of the TPP negotiations. But as a presidential candidate, Clinton said she would oppose TPA if worker assistance wasn’t part of the package.

Clinton did not offer an immediate response to the finalized accord Monday.

To her left, Clinton is facing off against vocal TPP opponents in Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Sanders has been a frequent and vocal critic of the trade pact for months and issued a fresh statement calling the “disastrous” deal a win for Wall Street and big corporations. He vowed to do everything he could in the Senate to block it.

O’Malley has said he is in favor of trade but against the TPP, which he says is flawed and fails to protect American workers.

Vice President Biden has not jumped into the 2016 race, but the possibility of him doing so is a constant topic of conversation. On trade, Biden’s position as Obama’s No. 2 effectively ensures his support for the deal, and he has been a cheerleader for the effort.

On the Republican side, reactions have been mixed. Some free-trade advocates have been staunch supporters of the deal as Obama’s team worked to hammer it out, while others have struck a more protectionist tone. In addition, candidates have used the trade topic as yet another opportunity to slam Obama as a weak negotiator while touting their own free-trade bona fides.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has broken with many in the GOP by criticizing the TPP, calling it a “bad deal” on Twitter in April. The business tycoon called the trade deal “an attack on America’s business.”

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has been critical of the deal, saying there needs to be more input than just the president. In June, Carson told The Huffington Post that it was improper for the administration to strike the deal on its own.

“We are a republic, and that means that the people are in charge through their representatives, and the president is only one person. And I think we need to have much more input,” he said.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Carly Fiorina have also jabbed at the secretive nature of the talks, which were administration-led and kept private from the public. Huckabee has also criticized the trade talks on the grounds that they are bad for American workers.

In May, Fiorina criticized the pact, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Obama has a bad track record on other policy matters that makes the details of this accord suspect.

But former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been an open supporter of the TPP throughout his campaign. While jabbing Clinton for cooling on the trade deal in April, Bush called the TPP a “great deal for America.”

In Congress, Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) both voted against giving Obama fast-track authority — Paul opposed the secretive nature of the talks, while Cruz flipped from being a one-time supporter of it to an opponent as part of a continued fight on the Export-Import Bank. However, both have spoken in favor of free trade in general in the past, even if they have their doubts about Obama’s role.

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) voted in favor of fast-track and has struck a favorable tone toward the overall deal. So too has Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.). In an interview Monday, Rubio said he generally was “very positive” toward trade deals but wanted to see the final terms before committing.

“I’m generally very much in favor of free trade,” he said on CNBC. “I explain to people all the time, the United States cannot get locked out of 95 percent of the world’s consumers.”

Rounding out the GOP field, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has suggested he could favor something like the TPP but questioned Obama’s ability to secure positive terms for the U.S. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal opposed giving Obama fast-track powers and the TPP on similar grounds.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich struck a positive tone toward trade and the TPP in April, while noting concerns about the impact on America workers.

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Rand Paul Ted Cruz
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