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With the legislative clock fast ticking on Fast Track and TPP, is presidential candidate Hillary Clinton playing it safe on corporate-backed trade deal? (Photo: Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

While Fire over TPP is Red Hot, Demand Grows for Clinton to Speak Up

Presidential candidate's memoir is titled 'Hard Choices,' note those demanding a stronger position. The time to make one is now.

Jon Queally

With the fight over Fast Track authority in full swing and the battle lines drawn between progressive voices opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and corporate-backed forces rallying in its favor, a growing chorus of voices want Hillary Clinton—who recently made her presidential bid for 2016 official—to take a definitive stance on the controversial trade pact that so clearly represents the power struggle between the interests of big business on one hand, and transparency, democracy, and an economic system that protects workers, the planet, and the public good on the other.

On Tuesday, Clinton made what were widely regarding as milquetoast statements on the pending agreement, saying: "Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security."

But as Politico reports Thursday:

Democratic lawmakers intent on preventing fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership are calling on Clinton to take a more definitive stance on the legislation, hoping that she can tip the scales against President Barack Obama’s position.

The furthest Clinton has gone is to say that whatever agreement is reached needs to protect American workers and have appropriate safeguards. But Clinton owes it to voters — and to the Democratic Party — to more explicitly spell out her views on such a critical issue, a number of Democrats on Capitol Hill who oppose the fast-track authority and the emerging multination agreement told POLITICO.

And according to the Wall Street Journal:

Mrs. Clinton is under increasing pressure to take a firm position opposing the proposed agreement, as some of her potential Democratic rivals have already done. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who is considering a presidential bid, sent a fundraising email to supporters on Wednesday that made a wry reference to Mrs. Clinton’s book, "Hard Choices." In the subject line, Mr. O’Malley wrote, "Hard Choice?" Then: "Nope. To me, opposing bad trade deals like TPP is just common sense."

Unions, environmentalists and grass roots activists—all Democratic foot soldiers in presidential races—hope to see Mrs. Clinton join a liberal alliance that wants the deal to be killed.

With more progressive members of Congress—including large numbers of House Democrats and a group of senators led by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)—scrambling to resist the tide of support the agreement has received from corporate interests, critics say that while Clinton's decision to stand on the sidelines might be smart campaigning in the age of $5 billion election cycles, it shouldn't go unnoticed.

As journalist and political commentator John Nichols wrote last week, Clinton "has a chance to get trade policy right when it matters" and that means "now"—when the fire is hot and the stakes are real. Citing the title of her recent memoir, Hard Choices, Nichols argued that is because of the intense political climate surrounding TPP and the Fast Track authority that would see it rammed through Congress on a simple up-or-down vote that Clinton should weigh in. "Politics requires hard choices," he said. "Clinton should make one."

Sen. Merkley, sharing a variety of fears about the deal and the legislative push to get it approved, told Politico, "I think now that she’s officially declared for president, she should share with people how she feels about it. Certainly these are major concerns — and she should speak to them.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus that strongly opposes TPP, told Politico he would "be very happy" if Clinton would come out publicly to ask key questions about the deal. For example, he said, "If it doesn’t increase wages, why are we doing it?" If Clinton, who has recently spoken about economic inequality and wage stagnation, really cares about those issues, Ellison added, it would be "incredibly difficult" to advocate for "trade bills that basically erode Americans' wages."

While Sens. Sanders and Warren have used TV and other media platforms, as well as their positions within the Senate, to forestall and criticize the deal, the National Journal's Eric Garcia says this "indirectly puts Clinton's position under a magnifying glass" as she remains "more guarded" over the TPP and Fast Track.

For progressive constituents and activists who have declared that the U.S. is experiencing a "populist moment," the TPP has become a necessary litmus test to judge where lawmakers (or nominees) stand on protecting the public from the coordinated right-wing and corporate assault that has been hurting workers, the environment, and the democratic process at large for the last 40 years.

However, according to an op-ed by columnist Jim Hightower on Wednesday, "Clinton and other top Democrats are weaker than Canadian hot sauce when it comes to embracing the real populism that voters want."

And now, say such critics, the Fast Track approval swiftly moving through Congress—which would also impact the similarly controversial deal being negotiated with European nations, the Transatlantic Trade  and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—only proves that corporate interests, including the power of money in politics, continue to drive the country in the exact wrong direction.

Speaking at the Populism2015 conference held last week, director of National People's Action George Goehl said the question his progressive advocacy group has for Clinton, as well as any candidate, is this: "What are you going to do to re-balance the relationship between everyday people and corporate America?" And, he added, "If you're not with that, we're not with you."

Perhaps, however, the other immediate question critics are now posing to the Clinton campaign when it comes to TPP and Fast Track is this: Where are you?

The clock is ticking.

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