Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, wrote in an opinion piece published Wednesday that a “civil war” among Democrats on trade policy “could have a profound impact on America’s future engagement with the world.”
He wrote that as secretary of state, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton had “championed” the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), deals being negotiated by the United States with Pacific Rim countries and the European Union, respectively, but that the liberal base of her party has since “turned dramatically against free trade,” leading to relative silence on the topics.
Mr. Cantor outlined former President Bill Clinton’s advocating for agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and negotiating other deals involving China, Chile, and Jordan.
“Each of these trade bills passed through the support of Republicans and Democrats,” Mr. Cantor wrote in the piece for CNN. “In fact, none of these initiatives would have passed without the active support of Democratic members of Congress. Even on Clinton’s biggest failure on trade — the 1998 defeat of trade promotion authority in Congress — the support and opposition was bipartisan in nature.”
Mr. Cantor wrote that the Republican party has become more pro-free trade in the decade following Mr. Clinton’s presidency and that as GOP districts have become more conservative overall, “Republican officials have less to fear politically from an anti-trade Democratic challenger.”
“In the current debate over Trade Promotion Authority in Congress, lack of trust in President Obama seems to be a more animating factor in Republican concerns than any animus towards free trade,” he wrote.
Mr. Cantor, vice chairman and managing director at the investment firm Moelis & Company, lost a GOP primary contest to Rep. Dave Brat one year ago amid divisions within the Republican party in Virginia and in the state’s 7th congressional district Mr. Cantor had represented.
He went on to write that the ranks of pro-free trade “New Democrats” in Congress has shrunk as the GOP has expanded its majority and as Democratic districts have become more liberal.
“[S]hould trade become just another partisan issue on which Democrats and Republicans neatly divide, the gridlock that has paralyzed the United States on so many other issues will seize the trade agenda,” he wrote.
He quoted Mr. Clinton as saying before he signed NAFTA into law: “We are on the verge of a global economic expansion that is sparked by the fact that the United States at this critical moment decided that we would compete, not retreat.”
“With similar moments of decision before us on TPP and TTIP, it is critical that the advocates of engagement prevail in this ‘civil war’ within the Democratic Party,” Mr. Cantor wrote. “The future prosperity — and security — of the United States depends upon it.”