President Barack Obama on Tuesday took aim at his prime antagonist on free trade: “Elizabeth Warren is wrong on trade,” he told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on “Hardball.”
Obama’s tough comments capture the challenge in selling the Democratic Party on free trade, where strong attacks by Warren, labor leaders and other trade skeptics have put pro-trade Democrats on the defensive.
Sen. Warren (D-Mass) declared she was “ready for a fight” during an anti-trade rally last week in front of the Capitol.
Democratic lawmakers like Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington now find themselves caught in the crossfire between Obama and Warren. But which direction she chooses will go a long way toward determining whether the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership ever comes into being.
DelBene, who is facing her first trade vote since being elected in 2012, is one of several dozen House members who could provide the White House the margin it needs to obtain so-called fast-track authority, which would enable Obama to more freely negotiate the massive Pacific trade deal.
Her Seattle-area district is typical of those of other Democrats targeted by the White House. It’s evenly split between liberals and conservatives, but includes many political progressives who are pressuring DelBene to vote against giving the administration the authority necessary to negotiate the biggest trade deal in history. They say it’s a raw deal for workers.
Her district, which stretches from the Seattle suburbs to the Canadian border, is also home to Microsoft and a robust farm exporting industry that includes the nation’s top raspberry-producing county.
It’s not clear whether DelBene is one of the 10 to 15 members that another Democratic House member says are in the White House cross hairs. But she could be.
“There is a target group of people that are probably going to keep their powder dry until the vote,” the member said.
DelBene’s decision — and the votes of a few dozen Democrats in Congress — will make or break Obama’s legacy on trade as he tries to win so-called fast-track trade negotiating authority to wrap up a five-year effort to close the TPP and other pending deals.
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