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After advocating for the agreement as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton declared her lukewarm TPP opposition in October, facing a progressive challenge from left. (Photo: PBS News)

Clinton's "First Major Betrayal"? DNC Surrogates Defeat Anti-TPP Measure

'The Clinton campaign's reversal on TPP is not just bad policy—it's terrible politics,' says Bernie Sanders advisor

Deirdre Fulton

Well, that didn't take long.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, through her surrogates on the Democratic National Committee's platform drafting panel, appears to already be hedging on her most recent stance on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Clinton flipped her position on the corporate-friendly TPP last October, saying she opposed it after having backed it as secretary of state. At the time, Slate ran a piece with the headline, "Hillary Clinton Comes Out Against TPP, at Least Until the Democratic Convention."

Rival Bernie Sanders made opposition to the TPP and trade deals like it a cornerstone of his campaign. He and allies on the committee supported a proposal led by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) that would have added language rejecting the 12-nation, Pacific Rim pact to the 2016 Democratic Party platform.

But in St. Louis on Friday night, the Clinton-allied majority on the committee outvoted the Sanders delegates 10-5 to defeat that proposal, citing President Barack Obama's support for the deal.

The Associated Press reports:

The panel, which is developing the party's platform ahead of next month's Philadelphia convention, instead backed a measure that said "there are a diversity of views in the party" on the TPP and reaffirmed that Democrats contend any trade deal "must protect workers and the environment."

But Kevin Gosztola argued that other motivations were at play, writing on Sunday, "the only reason why Clinton appointees would not want to put this in the platform was if Clinton was planning to backtrack on her opposition to the TPP if she is elected president."

Indeed, Gosztola continued, the "diversity of views" amendment that did pass merely gives "corporate Democrats cover to support a trade deal that everyone on the platform committee claims is antithetical to the values of Democrats."

As Bill McKibben—a Sanders appointee to the commitee—noted at the time, "Every interest group that we've heard from, human rights groups, labor groups, and environmental groups, have been firm in their denunciation of TPP." 

What's more, Sanders advisor Larry Cohen wrote in an op-ed on Monday, "the Clinton campaign’s reversal on TPP is not just bad policy—it's terrible politics," especially in light of and electoral realities in the U.S. and the UK's vote to leave the European Union.

He explained:

Donald Trump has argued that Hillary Clinton would sign the TPP, which would cost millions of American jobs. Working-class Americans have had enough of Democratic presidents like Clinton and Obama saying one thing to get elected, and then adopting trade policies that accelerate the race to the bottom. The Brexit vote in the UK was, in part, about working-class disgust with the rigged global economic system that places investment interests far above their own jobs and living standards.

Also at The Nation, John Nichols added:

The Brexit vote is just the latest signal that voters have not just soured on the rough mix of globalization, deindustrialization and austerity that can be traced back to Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the United States; they are now casting votes based on that opposition. Wealth has been redistributed upward, wages have stagnated, inequality has accelerated. And voters are saying “stop.” They are not just doing so in Britain. In the United States, opposition to failed trade policies in general, and to the TPP in particular, played a critical role in helping Sanders secure big victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and other states where he was able to focus the debate of economic fundamentals. Clinton has recognized this and spoken with increasingly specificity about her opposition to the TPP—going so far as to declare her disapproval of proposals to organize a post-election vote on the measure by a lame-duck Congress. “I oppose the TPP agreement—and that means before and after the election,” [she] declared in May.

To take on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, Nichols said, "Democrats must offer a clear, coherent alternative that recognizes the failures of the past (NAFTA), that commits to avoiding new failures (TPP), and that frames out a vision for the future that repudiates both crude nationalism and crude corporatism."

Meanwhile, on social media, observers suggested this platform battle is merely a sign of things to come.

As Common Dreams reported this weekend, trade policy wasn't the only area where progressive demands went un-met. In fact, former Ohio Congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich accused the platform committee of taking "a wrecking ball to the U.S. Constitution, the global climate, and world peace," citing not just the TPP stance but also failed measures denouncing fracking and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The party's position on TPP is not yet set in stone, as the document approved Friday was a draft. The committee will meet once more in Orlando before the Democratic National Convention in July, and in a statement, Ellison said he hopes his anti-TPP amendment will be adopted there. 

As Donna Smith wrote in an op-ed Monday, the meeting in Orlando "may be the last chance for the Party to demonstrate in a very concrete way that they want the 12 million votes cast for Bernie to lean strongly 'D' in November."

Or as Sanders himself told a crowd in New York: "If we do not win that fight in St. Louis, we're taking it to Orlando, where the larger committee will meet next month. If we don't make it in Orlando, we're takin' that fight right to the floor of the Democratic convention. Whether they like it or not, we're going to open the doors of the Democratic Party."

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