- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 7, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - Vice President Joe Biden became the only prospective or current Democratic presidential candidate supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Wednesday as Hillary Rodham Clinton declared her opposition.

A longtime darling of unions, Biden has been skeptical of previous sweeping free trade deals, warning of risks to U.S. jobs. Yet he’s publicly supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, jeopardizing his support from unions if he enters the race. Other declared Democratic candidates have said they oppose the deal.

Biden, who is considering running for president, made no mention of the controversial trade deal as he addressed union officials Wednesday at a White House workers summit. Instead, he focused on safe-bet issues like higher wages and collective bargaining, telling labor leaders their movement “built the middle class.”

But Biden’s office said he “supports the TPP agreement and will help pass it on the Hill,” suggesting he’ll lobby lawmakers to vote for it. The vice president also serves as the Senate’s president, so Biden could be called upon to cast a tie-breaking vote.

“It’s an unfortunate side-effect of this trade policy because Joe Biden is beloved in the labor community,” said Chuck Rocha, a longtime labor organizer and Democratic consultant. “But they’re really drawing a line in the sand on the issue - more than they ever have in the history of the movement.”



Clinton came out against the deal on Wednesday, breaking with President Barack Obama and Biden and saying she fears the deal won’t “meet the high bar I have set.” Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are both staunchly opposed.

Biden has defended the deal and lobbied Democratic lawmakers last year to give Obama fast-track authority. He also worked to seal the deal abroad, calling for its completion during conversations with Japanese and Canadian leaders.

“This is a game changer,” Biden said earlier this year in Mexico, describing TPP as a “comprehensive, high-standard trade agreement” that would raise the bar for 21st century trade.

Clinton and other Democrats are aggressively seeking union endorsements in the primary. Galen Munroe, a Teamsters spokesman, said opposition to TPP would be an important consideration. AFL-CIO strategic adviser Eric Hauser said TPP has a big part of the higher-wages agenda his group will use to evaluate all candidates.

Designed to spur trade between Asia and the Western Hemisphere, TPP would alleviate more than 18,000 tariffs on U.S. exports, Obama has said. After a review period, Congress will eventually hold an up-or-down vote on whether to ratify the deal.

As a senator, Biden voted for the North America Free Trade Agreement, which labor groups detest, but later called for its renegotiation. During the George W. Bush administration, he opposed trade agreements with Central America, Singapore, Chile and Oman.

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Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at https://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

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