Indicating that support for the pro-corporate TransPacific Partnership (TPP) may already be a political third rail in the lead-up to the 2016 election, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Wednesday broke with the Obama White House, flipping her position to join Sen. Bernie Sanders and other progressives in saying she does not support the 12-nation "trade" deal.
"As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it," Clinton told PBS News' Judy Woodruff. "I don't believe it's going to meet the high bar I have set. I've been trying to learn as much as I can about the agreement, but I'm worried."
Clinton had previously hedged on the TPP, a deal that she backed as Secretary of State and championed in her book, Hard Choices. Her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.)—who has made opposition to the deal a centerpiece of his campaign and worked against its advancement in the Senate—said in June he was "offended by Mrs. Clinton’s silence on trade and urged her to share her real views with voters."
Since then, the progressive outcry against the TPP and other corporate-friendly trade deals has only grown louder.
"It's becoming increasingly hard for any presidential candidate who expects to be elected to stay aboard this sinking ship," Evan Greer, campaign director for the advocacy group Fight for the Future, said in a statement responding to Clinton's Wednesday announcement.
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What's more, Clinton's statements could serve as "political cover to wavering Congressional Democrats who want to help President Obama but are also feeling grassroots pressure from labor unions and other liberal groups," Timothy B. Lee wrote at Vox.
Whether Clinton's newly minted opposition will stick is another story.
Unlike Sanders' long-standing and consistent opposition to so-called "free trade" deals, NBC political correspondent Mark Murray says Clinton's reverse-course on TPP may not only be a "smart move" for the frontrunner, but also fits a pattern from establishment Democrats.
"In the 2008 Democratic primaries," Murray writes, "both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton railed against NAFTA and free trade accords. But after winning the Democratic nomination, Obama warmed up to free trade—and he's now made this TPP trade accord a chief goal in his final months in the White House."
Accordingly, he continued, "it wouldn't be surprising if Clinton makes a similar move back to the middle if she wins the nomination next year."
Despite what was viewed as cynical political expediency by some, some TPP opponents welcomed Clinton's announcement regardless of her motivations.
"Dear naysayers," tweeted Fight for the Future, "the importance of Clinton coming out against #TPP has nothing to do with whether you like her: it's good news for stopping #TPP."