Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and President Barack Obama have found themselves at the center of an increasingly heated feud within the Democratic Party over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, with no signs of tensions cooling anytime soon.
A vote is scheduled for Tuesday to “fast track” the deal, which would grant Obama broad authority on trade promotion. If it passes, Congress would hold a simple up-or-down vote on the deal when it’s finalized.
Here’s what the fight is about:
What are Obama and Warren fighting over?
The fight is essentially between the liberal wing of the Democratic Party with Warren leading the charge among the liberal base while Obama has aligned himself with more moderate voices over the trade deal the United States is negotiating with almost a dozen Pacific countries.
Warren and liberals, including organized labor, argue that the the agreement weakens regulations and also undercuts parts of the Dodd-Frank financial industry regulations that are near and dear to Warren’s heart. Obama, meanwhile, argues that the deal would increase U.S. exports as well as bring down tariffs on American goods in the Asian-Pacific.
What is TPP?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership the U.S. is negotiating with 11 countries in the Pacific would lower tariffs on a number of American goods and services in the region. The Obama administration has said that the proposal would also increase U.S. exports in the region. The deal would impact about 40 percent of American trade.
The countries involved, according to the U.S. Trade Representative website are “Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.”
Why does Warren hate it?
Specifically, Warren has argued that the deal’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in the deal could hinder public interest regulations and that the other countries in the deal could undermine Dodd-Frank. In an interview on Monday, Warren once again said that even though Obama claims people would be able to read the agreement, that’s not true.
“It’s classified,” Warren told the Plum Line’s Greg Sargent. Warren told Sargent that Obama has really “committed only to letting the public see this deal after Congress votes to authorize fast track” at which point “it will be impossible for us to amend the agreement or to block any part of it without tanking the whole TPP.”
Warren has emailed supporters accusing the administration of trying to keep the specifics of the deal a secret. Warren and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), another liberal favorite, also wrote an open letter to Obama urging him to make the text of the agreement public.
The criticisms from Warren annoy Obama.
A week ago Obama once again jabbed at Warren saying she is “absolutely wrong” to say the deal could potentially allow participating countries to get around Dodd-Frank regulations.
“Think about the logic of that, right?” Obama told Yahoo News. “The notion that I had this massive fight with Wall Street to make sure that we don’t repeat what happened in 2007, 2008. And then I sign a provision that would unravel it? I’d have to be pretty stupid.”
Obama has also shrugged of Warren’s claims that the ISDS procedures would weaken financial regulation laws as “bunk.”
What’s the political fallout?
The consequences of Obama’s disagreement with Warren and other liberals is that the president has found himself with some unlikely allies and unfamiliar opponents.
At Nike’s headquarters on Friday Obama noted that the liberals he’s usually in sync with on, say, the minimum wage are now waving torches and pitchforks at him on trade. Top Republicans, like House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), have sided with Obama in expressing support to quickly pass the trade deal through Congress.
“There have been a bunch of critics about trade deals generally and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Obama said. “And what’s interesting is typically they’re my friends coming from my party. And they’re my fellow travelers on minimum wage and on job training and on clean energy and on every progressive issue, they’re right there with me. And then on this, they’re like whupping on me.”
Brown, in response, said Obama should release the text of the deal.
“If the President wants to have a real debate, he should release the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and let the public and press review it before Congress grants fast track authority for him to rush it through,” Brown said in a statement.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now running in the 2016 Democratic primary for president, has been careful not to weigh in closely on TPP. But in April Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, was caught privately saying “can you make it go away?”