- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2015

As calls intensify for Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton to take a stand on a major trade deal that has split her party, she’s wagered that she can ignore them, and campaign veterans say it’s a safe bet.

Getting to stay on the sidelines when the political game gets dirty is one of the benefits of being the party’s all-but-inevitable presidential nominee, said Democratic political strategists.

For months Mrs. Clinton has refused to pick sides in a fight that has her torn between the party’s liberal base and union allies that desperately want to sink the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and President Obama, who has made the 12-country trade deal the linchpin of his Asia policy.

The Senate is scheduled Tuesday to cast the first votes on a bill that would give Mr. Obama authority to fast-track trade agreements and make it much easier for him to win approval for TPP. The vote will test Senate Democrats’ allegiance to the president and add urgency to the calls for Mrs. Clinton to finally weigh in.

By remaining mum, however, Mrs. Clinton hopes to have it both ways. She has voiced general support for the left’s anti-free trade views while not overtly offending the White House or business interests — potential campaign donors — who back the deal.

“She’s playing it very smart. There’s no pressure on her. She can do what she wants when she wants,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic campaign consultant who formerly advised President Bill Clinton.

The unions and liberals will forgive her for any transgressions and get behind it if she becomes the nominee, because she’ll be the only option for keeping a Democrat in the White House, said Mr. Sheinkopf.

“It’s a great position to be in,” he said. “If there was a credible candidate against her in the Democratic primary who could play this off against her, it would be different. She would then have to say what her position is. But she doesn’t have to.”

Veteran Democratic campaign strategist Joe Trippi agreed.

“At this point there isn’t much of a downside either way within the Democratic Party,” he said. “None of her current opponents within the party have enough traction to pose a real challenge as of now. So she is free to do what she thinks is right or what she thinks better positions her against the Republicans.”

Indeed, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state so far faces only token opposition in the Democratic primary race.

She captured 60 percent in a poll released last week of likely Iowa Democratic Caucus participants. Her closest competitor, Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, got 15 percent in the Quinnipiac University Poll.

Mrs. Clinton enjoyed a similar lead among likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire, a neighbor of Mr. Sanders’ home state.

Mr. Sanders has repeatedly attempted to make the trade deal an issue, stressing his opposition and Mrs. Clinton’s conspicuous silence on the issue when he announced his White House run April 30.

When pressed Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS to say why he’s a better candidate than Mrs. Clinton, TPP was the first issue raised by Mr. Sanders.

“I am strongly opposed to that trade agreement because I think it follows in the footsteps of other disastrous trade agreements which have cost us millions of jobs,” he said, later adding that it was one area where he and Mrs. Clinton “differ.”

The other “disastrous” trade deals he referred to include the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which was signed by President Bill Clinton, with Mrs. Clinton’s full support. When she ran for president in 2008, Mrs. Clinton took a dimmer view of the trade deal and said it needed to be fixed.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is expected to enter the race this month, mocked Mrs. Clinton for not taking a stance on TPP — with a reference to her book “Hard Choices.”

“Hard Choices?” he said in an email to supporters. “Nope. To me, opposing bad trade deals like TPP is just common sense.”

Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is the only potential Democrat for president who has come out firmly in favor of the trade deal.

Many on the left have interpreted Mrs. Clinton’s silence as tacit approval. After all, she was a chief proponent of the trade deal when she ran the State Department for Mr. Obama.

TPP will lower barriers, raise standards and drive long-term growth across the region,” she said in 2012. “It will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and establish strong protections for workers and the environment.”

Team Clinton tried to walk back her position with a statement when the fast-track bill was introduced last month.

“Any new trade measure has to pass two tests: First, it should put us in a position to protect American workers, raise wages and create more good jobs at home. Second, it must also strengthen our national security,” it said.

Last week, after Mrs. Clinton took an aggressive stance on immigration that included backing a path to citizenship for illegals and expanding Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty, a Hispanic advocacy group pressed her to be just as courageous in opposing TPP.

A small group of activists from Presente.org rallied outside a Clinton campaign fundraiser in Los Angeles.

“Hillary Clinton wants the Latino vote. But in order to win it, she needs to offer specifics. And she needs to start by detailing her recently announced immigration platform and also by taking a stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade pact that will have a major effect in increasing migration,” said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org.

“Trade agreements like the TPP have a disastrous effect on Latino families across the U.S., but the impact it has in uprooting Latin American families cannot be understated,” Mr. Carmona told The Washington Times.

Did the Clinton campaign respond?

“Not yet, but the pressure is up and real,” he said.

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