Suddenly, Hillary Clinton Is a Critic of the TPP

After years of support for the trade deal, Clinton has seemingly backed off, as part of her newfound populism.

David Sirota August 7, 2015

Is Clinton putting up a front to gain votes from the middle class? (US Embassy / Flickr)

In her quest for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, Hillary Clin­ton has late­ly pro­mot­ed her­self as a pop­ulist defend­er of the mid­dle class. To that end, she attempt­ed to dis­tance her­self last week from a con­tro­ver­sial 12-nation trade deal known as the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship, which would set the rules of com­merce for rough­ly 40 per­cent of the world’s economy.

In June, CBS News reported that "a senior administration official told CBS News Correspondent Julianna Goldman that Clinton was one of the biggest backers of TPP."

As with sim­i­lar busi­ness-backed trade pacts, labor unions, envi­ron­men­tal groups and pub­lic health orga­ni­za­tions are warn­ing that the deal could result in job loss­es, reduced envi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, high­er prices for med­i­cine and more pow­er for cor­po­ra­tions look­ing to over­turn pub­lic inter­est laws. And so, in her quest for Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry votes, Clin­ton is sud­den­ly try­ing to cast her­self as a crit­ic of the initiative.

I did not work on TPP,” she said after a meet­ing with lead­ers of labor unions who oppose the pact. I advo­cat­ed for a multi­na­tion­al trade agree­ment that would be the gold stan­dard.’ But that was the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Unit­ed States Trade Representative.”

The trou­ble, of course, is that Clin­ton’s dec­la­ra­tion does not square with the facts.

CNN has report­ed that dur­ing her tenure as U.S. sec­re­tary of state, Clin­ton pub­licly pro­mot­ed the pact 45 sep­a­rate times. At a con­gres­sion­al hear­ing in 2011, Clin­ton told law­mak­ers that with respect to the TPP, although the State Depart­ment does not have the lead on this — it is the Unit­ed States Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive — we work close­ly with the USTR.” Addi­tion­al­ly, secret State Depart­ment cables pub­lished by the web­site Wik­iLeaks show that her agency — includ­ing her top aides — were deeply involved in the diplo­mat­ic delib­er­a­tions over the trade deal.

In a series of cables in late 2009 and 2010, State Depart­ment offi­cials out­lined their exten­sive dis­cus­sions about the pact with gov­ern­ment offi­cials from New Zealand. At one point, State Depart­ment offi­cials in that coun­try request­ed an addi­tion­al employ­ee to specif­i­cal­ly allow the Eco­nom­ics Offi­cer to focus on prepa­ra­tions for Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship trade negotiations.”

Sim­i­lar­ly, a Sep­tem­ber 2009 cable detailed Clin­ton’s Deputy Sec­re­tary of State, James Stein­berg, specif­i­cal­ly dis­cussing the TPP with Viet­nam’s Deputy Prime Minister.

In a Novem­ber 2009 cable, the U.S. embassy in Tokyo detailed TPP dis­cus­sions between Japan­ese gov­ern­ment offi­cials and Robert Hor­mats, a for­mer Gold­man Sachs exec­u­tive who was then serv­ing as Clin­ton’s under­sec­re­tary of state. In a Decem­ber 2009 cable, State Depart­ment offi­cials in Hanoi report­ed that the U.S. Ambas­sador host­ed a din­ner on Decem­ber 21 for Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship (TPP) Agree­ment coun­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives.” The cable thanked the Clin­ton-run State Depart­ment for pro­vid­ing reg­u­lar updates” that have been key to help­ing us answer the many TPP-relat­ed inquiries we receive.”

Mean­while, in a Jan­u­ary 2010 cable, State Depart­ment embassy offi­cials in Kuala Lumpur advised Deputy U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Demetrios Maran­tis on strate­gies to nego­ti­ate the TPP with the Malaysian government.

The involve­ment of the Clin­ton-led State Depart­ment in the TPP is hard­ly sur­pris­ing: In June, CBS News report­ed that a senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial told CBS News Cor­re­spon­dent Julian­na Gold­man that Clin­ton was one of the biggest back­ers of TPP.” In a Bloomberg News inter­view that same month, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advis­er Susan Rice dis­put­ed the idea that Clin­ton was not involved in the TPP.

She was inte­gral­ly involved in all of the major ini­tia­tives of the first term of the admin­is­tra­tion,” said Rice, who served as U.S. Ambas­sador to the Unit­ed Nations when Clin­ton was Sec­re­tary of State. She was instru­men­tal in for­mu­lat­ing and imple­ment­ing the rebal­ance to Asia, of which the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship is a part.”

Con­sid­er­ing all the evi­dence, Clin­ton nonethe­less pre­tend­ing she had noth­ing to do with TPP is clear­ly a strate­gic cal­cu­la­tion: She is bet­ting that few vot­ers will notice the gap between her rhetoric and her own record. It is cer­tain­ly a cyn­i­cal tac­tic. Time will tell if it is a polit­i­cal­ly shrewd one.

David Siro­ta is an award­win­ning inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and an In These Times senior edi­tor. He served as speech writer for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 cam­paign. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @davidsirota.
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