WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance in a media conference call with Labor Secretary Tom Perez on Friday to push back on what he called “dishonest” criticism from progressives — apparently including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — that the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a “secret” deal.
“What I am averse to is a bunch of ad hominem attacks and misinformation that stirs up the base but ultimately doesn’t serve them well. And I’m going to be pushing back very hard if I keep hearing that stuff,” Obama told a small group of reporters on the call.
Of all the criticisms, “The one that gets on my nerves the most is the notion that this is a secret deal,” he said. “Every single one of the critics saying this is a secret deal, or send out e-mails to their fundraising base that they’re working to stop a secret deal, could walk over and see the text of the agreement.”
Obama didn’t mention Warren by name, but he didn’t have to. Two days ago Warren sent her supporters a fundraising email to whip up opposition to fast-tracking a trade deal. “The government doesn’t want you to read this massive new trade agreement,” Warren wrote. “It’s top secret.”
The president noted that the text of the TPP has been available “for weeks.” He said some components are still being negotiated and that Congress will have months to review it and decide whether or not to approve the deal.
Obama’s remarks were a fierce rebuttal to progressives, who have been pounding him for pursuing the TPP agreement and have been tapping into the deep reservoir of liberal skepticism toward global trade deals.
“If and when TPA [Trade Promotion Authority] passes, I still have to present the final detailed text of TPP to Congress, and a minimum of three months will be provided to Congress for them to scrutinize every comma and period and number in the text,” he said. “So there’s nothing secret about it, and when I just keep on hearing people repeating this notion that it’s secret, I gotta say, it’s dishonest. And it’s a little concerning when I see friends of mine resorting to those tactics.”
Apart from Warren, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and a variety of progressive activist groups have been mobilizing their base against a trade deal. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said “hell no” to letting Obama fast-track a trade agreement. Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton is noncommittal. Republican leaders, meanwhile, are broadly on board and moving the fast-track authority, as are numerous Democrats like Sen. Ron Wyden (OR), the ranking member of the Finance Committee.
Obama also dismissed as “bunk” and “not true” separate claims that investor-state dispute settlement (or ISDS) procedures could end up weakening domestic financial regulations or consumer protections or food safety laws. “They have no ability to undo U.S. laws,” he said.
He urged critics to understand that the deal would be far more progressive than NAFTA because it includes enforceable labor, environmental and human rights protections. He promised that it would be “the most progressive trade agreement in our history” and a big improvement on the status quo.
The battle appears to be the most contentious that Obama has had with his base, and it has clearly irked him. On Thursday he compared some of the left’s attacks on trade to the “death panels” smear during the Obamacare debate while speaking to supporters in Washington, D.C., according to a White House transcript of the appearance.
“I’m pretty fired up about this,” he told reporters on the Friday call.