Hillary Clinton took a wait-and-see approach Friday to a new trade deal being considered by the Obama administration, and that has roiled Democrats who may challenge her for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
In a statement about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a Clinton spokesman said that the presidential candidate believes any trade deal needs to protect American workers while also strengthening national security.
“We should be willing to walk away from any outcome that falls short of these tests,” Nick Merrill said. “She will be watching closely to see what is being done to crack down on currency manipulation, improve labor rights, protect the environment and health, promote transparency, and open new opportunities for our small businesses to export overseas.”
During her time as secretary of state, Clinton talked up the TPP.
At a 2011 event in Korea, Clinton advocated for “as few barriers to trade and investment as possible,” and in her 2014 memoir, she wrote that the deal “would link markets throughout Asia and the Americas, lowering trade barriers while raising standards on labor, the environment and intellectual property.”
Lawmakers on the House and Senate’s tax-writing committees brokered a deal Thursday that made it easier for President Barack Obama to pass the TPP, much to the dismay of liberals—particularly unions—who believe the deal is bad for American workers and wages.
The decision would give Obama more authority to quickly pass trade deals like the TPP, a massive, 12-country new pact that that would be the biggest trade deal in history.
During a press conference on Friday, Obama said “the politics around trade have always been tough, particularly in the Democratic Party,” but defended the deal because it would open foreign markets to American products.
Despite Clinton’s campaign stating that she would be watching for how the TPP will address currency manipulation, it seems unlikely that the deal would touch upon the issue. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and his negotiating team have said conversations about the practice of countries driving down the value of their currency are best left to the Treasury Department—a clear indication that the issue of currency manipulation won’t be addressed in the final Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Although Clinton’s positions bring her closer to the President, it also puts her at odds with some in her party, particularly two lawmakers who may run for president.
After Clinton’s statement came out on Friday, Lis Smith, Martin O’Malley’s top political adviser, emailed reporters with details on the former Maryland governor’s position on the issue. “No hedging here,” Smith wrote.
“Bad trade deals have sent American jobs and American profits abroad,” O’Malley said at a speech on Thursday. “We must stop entering into bad trade deals—bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership—that hurt middle-class wages and ship middle-class jobs overseas. And we certainly shouldn’t be fast-tracking failed deals.”
O’Malley has been teasing a presidential run and told reporters last week that he will make his decision this spring.
Likewise, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders urged Clinton to reject the TPP.
“My strong hope is that Secretary Clinton and all candidates, Republicans and Democrats, will make it clear that the Trans-Pacific Partnership should be rejected and that we must develop trade policies that benefit working families, not just Wall Street and multi-national corporations,” Sanders said in a statement.
Sanders, who said this week that his presidential decision will come “very soon,” has long argued that trade deals have been disastrous for the American people because of outsourcing and lower wages.
Trade has long been a difficult subject for the Clintons. Former President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, but liberal and labor leaders argue that NAFTA helped stagnate blue-collar wages.
The former president still defends NAFTA as a good deal for America. “NAFTA is still controversial, but people will thank me for it in 20 years,” Bill Clinton said last November.
Hillary Clinton backed NAFTA as first lady, but began to slightly back away from it during her 2008 presidential run. “NAFTA and the way it’s been implemented have hurt a lot of American workers,” Clinton said at a 2007 union forum.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny and Eric Bradner contributed to this report.