As Dems fight over trade, Hillary Clinton remains on sidelines

Published 9:31 PM EDT, Fri June 12, 2015
(CNN) —  

Every Democrat in Congress is now on the record on President Barack Obama’s free trade push.

But Hillary Clinton is staying on the sidelines.

The same day that House Democrats rebuffed the White House and voted to thwart a package of trade bills, three Clinton surrogates turned down opportunities to offer more detail on the party’s presidential frontrunner’s position.

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Clinton senior spokeswoman Karen Finney repeatedly refused to offer an answer to questions from CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” Friday about whether the former secretary of state supports or opposes the legislation House members voted on hours earlier.

“She really believes that the final language is really what’s important,” she said.

Obama is asking Congress for trade promotion authority, which guarantees trade deals like the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership up-or-down votes with no amendments. But Democrats rejected an accompanying bill, granting aid to displaced workers, in a Friday vote that had the effect of thwarting trade promotion authority, too.

Clinton hasn’t yet commented during her presidential campaign on trade promotion authority, which liberal groups like the AFL-CIO have made their primary target for defeat.

Finney did say, though, that Clinton’s 2012 praise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a “gold standard” of trade agreement isn’t relevant.

And she defended Clinton’s decision not to weigh in on the legislation that got a vote Friday – and that Republican House leaders could bring up for another vote next week.

“We are now in 2015, and this deal has gone back and forth between the House and the Senate and then it sounds like we’re gonna go back and forth again a couple more times,” Finney said.

She said Clinton has several tests for a trade deal: “Does it protect American workers? Does it keep America safe? What is the final language?”

Two more Clinton aides – campaign manager Robby Mook and communications director Jen Palmieri – wouldn’t talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership when a New York University student brought up the deal at a Politico event Friday night in Manhattan.

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“She is out there being that tenacious fighter,” Mook said after the student asked if Clinton’s vague approach on the trade deal has fed into voters’ perception that she’s a calculating political figure. But he didn’t specifically address trade, instead citing Clinton’s comments on issues like voting rights.

In May, Clinton said she wants to see rules included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would penalize countries for driving down the value of their currencies in order to give their exports a price advantage in the U.S. market.

And she said she’s concerned about a provision that would give “corporations more power to overturn health and environmental and labor rules than consumers have.”

“I think that is a problem,” Clinton said during a roundtable event in Iowa, when one woman participating in the event asked her about the deal.

It’s as close to staking out a clear position on the trade deal as Clinton has come – though she left wiggle room.

“I want to judge the final agreement. I have been for trade agreements; I have been against trade agreements,” she said.