Hillary Clinton couldn’t have been any clearer in Warren, Michigan, about where she’ll stand on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals if elected president. The only problem is, she has been just as clear about various other trade stances she’s taken.
“Well, I had said that for many years, that NAFTA and the way it’s been implemented has hurt a lot of American workers.”
Now, being pro-free trade doesn’t mean knee-jerk support for every deal in the pipeline. A reasonable and principled free trader could evaluate and oppose certain proposals on individual merits. But that isn’t what we’ve seen with Hillary. Rather, she has been on both sides of the whole alphabet of major trade proposals from her time as first lady, New York senator, and secretary of state — on NAFTA, CAFTA, and KORUS.
But last Thursday, she was definitive.
“I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Clinton said of the proposed deal with mostly Asian countries. “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”
The adamant statement came after one of her closest friends, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe gave a wink to the business community, when he told Politico, “Once the election’s over, and we sit down on trade, people understand a couple things we want to fix on it but going forward we got to build a global economy … She was in support of it. There were specific things in it she wants fixed.”
So the Bernie Sanders backers who were looking for some reassurance on trade shouldn’t take her latest iteration to heart.
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It was in November 2012 in Australia, where Secretary Clinton said: “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field. And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”
As clear as she was in Michigan, last October she seemed in mid-evolve stage, saying, “I am against it now, but we’ll see whether there is any kind of significant changes.” That’s a lot closer to what McAuliffe said than Hillary’s own “I’ll oppose it as president” pledge.
She’s been all over the board on the North America Free Trade Agreement, which her husband implemented in the 1990s. She said NAFTA represented “free and fair” trade when stumping for her husband’s re-election in 1996 before a crowd of union members with the Union for Needle Trades, Industrial and Textile Workers. Her 2003 book, “Living History,” said, “Creating a free trade zone in North America — the largest free trade zone in the world — would expand U.S. exports, create jobs, and ensure that our economy was reaping the benefits, not the burdens of globalization.”
A crowded 2008 Democratic primary field changed that. She told the AFL-CIO presidential candidate forum in August 2007, “Well, I had said that for many years, that NAFTA and the way it’s been implemented has hurt a lot of American workers.”
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When the Senate passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement in June 2005, Sen. Clinton called it “a sad day for supporters of free and fair rules-based trade.” As secretary of state, Clinton praised this “sad” deal when visiting Costa Rica in March 2010, declaring, “We’ve worked to promote growth and create jobs through sound fiscal policy, bilateral trade agreements, multilateral pacts like NAFTA and CAFTA-DR, and institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank.”
She also looked at both sides of a similar deal with Colombia. Sen. Clinton said as a candidate in April 2008, “As I have said for months, I oppose the deal. I have spoken out against the deal, I will vote against the deal, and I will do everything I can to urge the Congress to reject the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.” With a change of title came a change of tune when Secretary Clinton said in May 2011, “We are absolutely committed to passing the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement to open new markets and create jobs and opportunities for both of our peoples.”
When running in the primary against Sanders, she also turned against the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, a deal with South Korea better known as KORUS.
“When President Obama came into office, he inherited a trade agreement with South Korea. I, along with other members of the Cabinet, pushed hard to get a better agreement,” she said. “We think we made improvements. Now looking back on it, it doesn’t have the results we thought it would have in terms of access to the market, more exports, et cetera.”
Inherited is code for “blame Bush.” But despite that, this statement came actually close to admitting a mistake on a deal she heralded in March 2012.
“Today, the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement enters into force, marking a historic milestone that will lead to even more trade and investment between our two countries,” Clinton said in a statement. “KORUS will provide new market access opportunities in Korea’s dynamic trillion-dollar economy for U.S. exporters, creating jobs here at home while increasing opportunities for Korean companies in the United States.”
Among trade issues she didn’t really have the chance to flip on, Clinton voted for a trade deal with Chile in 2003, voted against a trade deal with Andean nations in 2002, and voted for granting normal trade relations status in Vietnam in 2001.
Ultimately, Hillary always has an explanation that probably sounds perfectly reasonable to her supporters. It’s a rationale Bernie Sanders supporters should keep in mind.
“I have been very consistent,” she said at an October Democratic debate. “Over the course of my entire life, I have always fought for the same values and principles, but, like most human beings – including those of us who run for office — I do absorb new information.”