March 10, 2016
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest this week signaled President Obama is determined to push forward with his plan to seek a congressional vote this year on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) despite presidential candidates from both political parties lambasting the deal on the campaign trail.
“We’re getting close to a situation where we will be asking the Congress to pass” TPP, Earnest said in a March 9 press briefing. He did so in response to a question about whether the administration needed to make a stronger case for TPP in light of voters’ skepticism of trade agreements.
Earnest spoke after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) upset Hillary Clinton in the Michigan Democratic primary on March 8 after making his opposition to trade agreements a key issue in the state.
In response to a question, Earnest said the results of the Michigan primary would not change President Obama’s strategy of how to get TPP to a floor vote, saying the administration already knew there was public opposition to TPP, especially in Michigan.
“I just don’t think the results in Michigan tell us something that we didn’t already know about the public’s view of this, particularly in the state of Michigan,” he said.
But lobbyists this week predicted that the anti-trade sentiment bubbling across the country may pressure lawmakers up for re-election to oppose TPP, endangering its prospects for passage in Congress this year.
Sanders throughout his campaign has proclaimed himself as having a stronger record than Clinton in opposing trade deals and in debates has highlighted his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement and granting China most-favored nation status to draw contrast between himself and Clinton — whose husband pushed both deals when he was president.
Earnest argued that Democratic opposition to free trade deals was expected based on the party’s historical stance and that the administration is working hard to convince some members of the party that TPP is worth supporting on its merits.
“I recognize that [making the economic case for TPP] is not going to immediately overcome the decades of Democratic Party orthodoxy when it comes to opposing trade,” Earnest said during the March 9 briefing. “But for people who are willing to consider this specific trade agreement on the merits, there’s no mystery why the President and at least some Democrats in Congress are supportive of it. And we’re going to continue to make that case across the country.”
On March 7, Earnest argued that President Obama managed to round up enough votes to secure congressional approval of trade promotion authority (TPA) and during that time presidential campaigns were already taking aim at TPP. He also suggested that the administration can make a more persuasive argument for TPP than TPA because it can point to tangible benefits that would accrue to lawmakers’ constituents under the trade deal.