Despite firm opposition from his party and both presidential tickets, President Obama said Tuesday said he isn’t giving up his push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement.
“Right now, I’m president and I’m for it,” Mr. Obama said at a White House press conference with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. “I think I’ve got the better argument and I’ve got the evidence to support it. We are part of a global economy. We’re not reversing that.”
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, both have reversed their previous support for the TPP, which covers the U.S., Singapore and 10 other Pacific Rim nations.
Republican nominee Donald Trump also opposes the pact, which has yet to be approved by Congress. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton Tuesday of having “shipped millions of our best jobs overseas to appease their global special interests.”
The president expressed optimism that Congress could still pass the deal during its lame-duck session after the election, when he said it won’t be used as “a political football.”
“Hopefully, after the election is over and the dust settled, there will be more attention to the actual facts behind the deal,” Mr. Obama said. “I will sit down with people on both sides, on the right and on the left. I will sit down publicly with them, and we will go down through the provisions. I would enjoy that, because there is a lot of misinformation.”
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Most House and Senate leaders of both parties have said they are either opposed to the agreement or have serious concerns. Democrats, especially, oppose the TPP due to concerns that it will cause the loss of high-paying union jobs in the U.S.
The president has been promoting the TPP as the economic centerpiece of his second term and a key piece of his foreign policy “pivot” to Asia.
Mr. Obama said there are “legitimate” fears about the impact of expanding free trade on U.S. jobs and wages, but argued that “trying to pull up a drawbridge on trade would only hurt us and hurt our workers.
During his state visit, Mr. Lee took the unusual step of calling on Congress to approve the TPP and warning that failure to do so would have serious consequences for the U.S. in the Pacific.
Approving the deal not only will benefit American workers and businesses, Mr. Lee said, “it will send a clear signal and a vital signal that America will continue to lead in the Asia Pacific and enhance the partnerships that link our destinies together.”
He said the U.S. could do lasting damage to its reputation overseas if it abandons the TPP, after other partner nations took political risks to get it approved.
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“If at the end, waiting at the altar the bride doesn’t arrive, I think there are people who are going to be very hurt,” Mr. Lee said. “Not just emotionally, but really damaged for a long time to come.”
The other partners in TPP are Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Chile, Brunei and New Zealand.
At an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, Mr. Lee said Singapore “fervently hopes that the U.S. will stay engaged and maintain its indispensable role in the Asia Pacific.”
During the president’s red-carpet greeting of Mr. Lee, Mr. Obama mangled the name of his guest’s father, the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who is regarded as Singapore’s founding father.
“In less than a generation, under the vision and stewardship of Prime Minister Lee Kew, uh, Wan, uh, Lee, Lee Kuan Yew, Singaporeans transformed their nation from third world to first,” Mr. Obama said, laughing at his mistake.