Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton broke with President Obama over the massive new Pacific trade deal Wednesday, announcing she now opposes the agreement she helped shepherd during her time as the country’s top diplomat.
The 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner revealed her stance in an interview with PBS, then released a statement saying given what she knows now about the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which negotiators from the U.S. and 11 other nations reached earlier this week, “I can’t support this agreement.”
Democrats and Republicans alike accused her of a political flip-flop of historic proportions, but Mrs. Clinton said the evidence is that the deal Mr. Obama finalized falls short of her goals.
“I still believe in the goal of a strong and fair trade agreement in the Pacific as part of a broader strategy both at home and abroad, just as I did when I was secretary of state,” she said. “I appreciate the hard work that President Obama and his team put into this process and recognize the strides they made. But the bar here is very high and, based on what I have seen, I don’t believe this agreement has met it.”
The announcement is a major blow to Mr. Obama just as he begins a push to get Democrats in Congress to join with the GOP in approving the deal. Some key Republicans have already been skeptical of the final compromises Mr. Obama made, and losing Mrs. Clinton creates an even tougher climb for the White House.
She said past trade deals have failed to live up to their promise, and said she can no longer give agreements “the benefit of the doubt” beforehand. And she blamed Republicans for stopping the kind of government spending, minimum wage increases and job training she said would have left the U.S. in a better position to compete with the rest of the world.
But those on both sides of the aisle viewed her announcement more as a political decision than an evaluation of the merits of the proposal.
“Wow! That’s a reversal!” said former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is running against Mrs. Clinton for the Democrats’ presidential nomination. “Secretary Clinton can justify her own reversal of opinion on this, but I didn’t have one opinion eight months ago and switch that opinion on the eve of debates. I’m against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I let people know that from the outset, and I think we need to focus on building up our own economy.”
Republicans gleefully sent out memos detailing Mrs. Clinton’s long history with the TPP, which included advocating for the agreement and, in 2012, predicting it would be the “gold standard” of free trade agreements.
In her book “Hard Choices,” released in 2014, Mrs. Clinton said the agreement would need to be judged on its final details but praised the outlines, saying it would lower trade barriers while raising labor and environmental standards.
Mrs. Clinton also was a booster for the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada during the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton.
Liberal pressure groups saw Mrs. Clinton’s stance as a victory, saying her tack to the left is proof of their emergence as a powerful force in Democratic politics — and highlights just how far Mr. Obama has strayed from his base.
“The unanimous opposition to the job-killing TPP among the major Democratic presidential candidates illustrates just how out of touch the White House is with the American people as it pushes this god-awful trade deal, and should be a giant flashing stop sign for any Democrat in Congress even contemplating voting for it,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America.
As Mrs. Clinton was announcing her opposition, Obama administration officials promised the fine print of its massive free trade agreement will be made public within 30 days and released a report Thursday showing the deal will cut taxes on more than 18,000 products exported from the U.S.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said representatives from the U.S. and 11 other nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership are going over the language to make sure it accurately reflects the agreements reached by negotiators last weekend after a final marathon bargaining session on sticking points such as patents for biologic drugs.
Jeff Zients, director of the White House National Economic Council, called the deal “a massive tax cut for American business” and said the administration is “confident TPP will earn bipartisan support in Congress.”
Mrs. Clinton’s stance comes a week before Democratic presidential candidates face off in their first debate and as she is trying to boost sagging poll numbers and stifle a challenge from her political left.
In recent weeks Mrs. Clinton has tacked to the left of her former self and/or the Obama administration on a number of issues such as public opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, the number of illegal immigrant deportations, the racial legacy of her husband’s mid-1990s crime bill and Obamacare’s “Cadillac tax” on certain generous health plans.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, has taken the lead in polls in New Hampshire, which hosts the first primary next year. And Mr. Sanders and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who hasn’t even decided on a bid yet, have siphoned off enough support in national polls to bring Mrs. Clinton to less than 50 percent.
Mr. Sanders has been particularly vocal in opposing the TPP. In a recent Twitter post, he wrote that NAFTA cost the U.S. almost 750,000 jobs, and normalizing trade relations with China cost another 3 million. As for the TPP, he said, “let’s not find out.”
After Mrs. Clinton announced her stance Wednesday, Mr. Sanders recounted his own votes against NAFTA, China trade relations and the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and said he was happy Mrs. Clinton “has now come on board.”
“I hope that, with her help, with the efforts of virtually every union in the country and with the opposition of many environmental groups, we can defeat this agreement, which was largely written by Wall Street and corporate America,” he said.
However, the administration’s report said TPP “eliminates thousands of taxes — in the form of tariffs — that are applied to everything from Washington apples, to Texas beef, to Silicon Valley software.”
It said 11.7 million U.S. jobs currently are supported by exports, and those jobs tend to be higher-paying than jobs not related to exports.
“As Asia rises, so does the importance of a level playing field,” Mr. Froman said. “Indeed, in a world where more than 95 percent of all customers live outside our borders, the disadvantages our workers and businesses currently face are unacceptable.”
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.