By Jonathan Swan for The Hill
Trade policy is emerging as a point of tension between the Bernie Sanders team and the party establishment in the drafting of the Democratic Party platform.
While Hillary Clinton came out against the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, an Asian trade deal that she previously championed as secretary of State, the Sanders forces still doubt the sincerity of her opposition to the agreement and appear to want specific language inserted into the platform to oppose the TPP.
The fault lines exposed themselves Thursday morning during a meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s 15-person platform drafting committee at a Washington hotel.
“As you know there is a tension between the so-called populists in the Democratic Party and the so-called neo-liberals over the issue of the TPP,” said Cornel West, a Sanders ally on the drafting committee.
“I’m going to advance that it’s very important that we, in our platform, make a statement about TPP,” West added, in a roundtable debate on trade in the drafting committee’s Thursday morning session.
Labor leader Richard Trumka agreed forcefully with West in his testimony to the drafting committee.
Trumka, who is , president of the AFL-CIO, said the Democratic Party mustn’t allow itself to be outflanked by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump over the issue of trade.
“Unless you make a strong statement [about the TPP], the American public is going to be confused by the opposite side who is very sharp and clear on trade,” Trumka said, adding that he thinks Trump doesn’t believe what he’s saying on trade.
“If we simply muddle through the issue we’ll lose votes in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan … every state that’s seen a failed trade agreement work to their disadvantage.
“I think we have to be crystal clear and sharp on the issue, otherwise we lose to a Republican Party coming from the left.”
Asked about the potential for conflict over the TPP in the party platform, a senior Democrat and Clinton ally told The Hill that there was “no daylight between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton on TPP.”
“They both opposed it,” the source said, adding that Clinton was promoting policies to hold accountable American companies that are sending jobs overseas and was open to working with Sanders to find agreement on the platform.
Still, a Team Sanders request to denounce the TPP in the platform would put the White House in a tricky position.
While Clinton opposes the TPP and wants to accommodate as many of Sanders’s demands as possible in the interest of party unity, it would be a major — and probably unacceptable — deal for the party to explicitly oppose a signature initiative of the sitting president and leader of the party.
Anti-TPP language would also be a major back flip on the trade language used in the 2012 Democratic Party platform.
Regarding the TPP, the 2012 platform stated, “We remain committed to finding more markets for American-made goods — including using the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the United States and eight countries in the Asia-Pacific, one of the most dynamic regions in the world.”
Sticking up for the importance of international trade agreements at Thursday’s meeting was Kurt Campbell, a Clinton ally and former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Campbell told the platform drafting committee that he recognized American workers’ concerns about the TPP but he said that “on balance, my view is to try to work it out” and amend the trade deal rather than abandon it altogether.
“We cannot walk away from this,” Campbell said. “We have to figure out — is there a way we can adjust it? Is there a way that we can work with other partners to find a way forward?
“For the simple reason that we just cannot afford to withdraw from this critical region.”
But Sanders’s policy director, Warren Gunnels, made clear to Campbell that the Sanders campaign would not be entertaining such nuances.
“I don’t think that we can amend or tinker around the edges with the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Gunnels told Campbell.
“I think we need to kill it.”
The audience applauded Gunnels as he forcefully rejected the TPP.
In a brief interview with The Hill on the sidelines of the meeting Thursday morning, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a Sanders supporter on the platform drafting committee, said he was optimistic that unity could be found between the Clinton and Sanders forces.
Pressed on the emerging points of tension, Ellison said he envisaged the most vigorous debates being over trade, environmental policy and the approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Clinton favors a more hawkish foreign policy and more uncompromising support for Israel than does Sanders, who speaks up more frequently for Palestinian rights.
“On some foreign policy issues you may see a spirited discussion around how the Democratic Party wants to present itself around the conflict in the Holy Land,” Ellison said.
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“Fracking could be an issue,” he added, referring to an energy extraction method that Sanders unequivocally opposes, whereas Clinton has been hedging.
There won’t be any announcements about the platform until after the committee meets at the end of the month to draft the language.