Hillary Rodham Clinton is under fire from all sides for refusing to take a stand in the trade debate that is consuming Washington, and her top campaign hands brushed aside or flat-out ignored questions on the topic during several high-profile media interviews Sunday.
Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic party’s front-runner for the 2016 presidential nomination, has been virtually silent on whether President Obama should be granted Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which would allow him to negotiate major trade deals and then submit them to Congress for a simple up-or-down vote. Mr. Obama’s broad trade package failed on Capitol Hill last week amid a Democratic revolt, though House Republican leaders plan to revive it this week.
But the White House has gotten no help from Mrs. Clinton in persuading skeptical Democrats to back the president, who increasingly looks like a lame-duck leader unable to muster even a majority of his own party. Mrs. Clinton’s campaign advisers say she’ll ultimately weigh in on specific trade deals, but gave no indication she intends to use her considerable clout in the Democratic party to influence this week’s vote.
“You may hear her talk about it sooner rather than later,” Clinton campaign spokesperson Karen Finney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ll see if she decides she wants to go ahead and tell us what she wants to say about it.”
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta also carefully avoided the specific question about Mrs. Clinton’s position on TPA. Mr. Podesta and Ms. Finney would only say that Mrs. Clinton eventually will announce whether she supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other key trade deals that would be negotiated under the president’s trade authority.
In the face of repeated questions, Mr. Podesta would not say whether Mrs. Clinton backs giving Mr. Obama authority to negotiate such deals, nor would he reveal a position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership specifically. He only said that the former secretary of state will support trade deals if they help American workers and advance U.S. national security interests.
“The agreement is not final, so when it is final she’ll render a judgment about that,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” referring to the TransPacific Partnership even after being asked specifically about broader Trade Promotion Authority.
Mrs. Clinton also skirted the issue during her first official campaign speech on Saturday.
Her refusal to weigh looks to be a political problem, as she’s now coming under near-constant fire from both Republicans and her Democratic presidential primary rivals.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont Independent running in the Democratic primary, once again called out Mrs. Clinton Sunday.
“I would hope very much Secretary Clinton would side with every union in this country, virtually every environmental group, many religious groups and say this [Trans-Pacific Partnership] is a disaster, that it must be defeated and that we need to regroup and come up with a trade policy which demands corporate America start investing in this country rather than in countries all over the world,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Following Ms. Finney’s awkward interview on “Fox News Sunday” — during which host Chris Wallace repeatedly pressed her on trade, despite getting no answer — Rep. Paul Ryan also pounced on Mrs. Clinton.
“That was one of the most painful interviews I’ve watched in a long time,” the Wisconsin Republican said, appearing on Fox News immediately after Ms. Finney. “I can’t believe it. Pick a position. That’s what leaders do.”