Obama Compares Progressive Opposition to Trade Deal to “˜Death Panels’ as the Left Ramps Up Opposition

With trade legislation advancing in Congress, the White House and left-wing groups are turning their guns on each other.

President Barack Obama addresses the Organizing for Action Summit.
National Journal
April 24, 2015, 8:39 a.m.

With Con­gress mov­ing le­gis­la­tion to give the White House more au­thor­ity on trade le­gis­la­tion, Pres­id­ent Obama is look­ing to al­lay the fears of some of his biggest sup­port­ers on the Left. But so far, that ef­fort is only draw­ing more blow­back from pro­gress­ives.

At a speech to a sum­mit hos­ted by Or­gan­iz­ing for Ac­tion, the or­gan­iz­a­tion cre­ated out of Obama’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns to ad­voc­ate for his policies and train or­gan­izers, Obama said he wanted to ad­dress the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing his trade policy.

“I want to talk about some stuff that cre­ates some con­tro­versy, be­cause it’s im­port­ant,” Obama said Thursday night. “And one of those policies right now that I’m fo­cused on is new trade agree­ments with oth­er coun­tries.”

This week, the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee and House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee both passed Trade Pro­mo­tion Au­thor­ity le­gis­la­tion, also known as “fast-track” le­gis­la­tion, which would make trade agree­ments like the 12-na­tion Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship sub­ject to an up-or-down vote in Con­gress without the abil­ity to amend.

Many Demo­crats in Con­gress have com­plained about vari­ous parts of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s push for trade deals, from the dif­fi­culty ac­cess­ing ne­go­ti­at­ing doc­u­ments, to con­cerns that the trade deal will lead to lost jobs and lower wages. Pro­gress­ive fa­vor­ite Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren has warned that the TPP could lead to weak­en­ing of labor and en­vir­on­ment­al stand­ards in the U.S.

“If you were watch­ing MS­N­BC and all this stuff, and you’re think­ing, ‘Oh, man, I love Obama but what’s go­ing on here?’” the pres­id­ent joked, try­ing to re­frame the deal as part of his push for what he calls “middle-class eco­nom­ics,” which he said was “the idea that this coun­try does best when every­body gets their fair shot, every­body does their fair share, every­body plays by the same set of rules.”

Obama also called the deal “the most pro­gress­ive trade agree­ment in our his­tory,” adding that it has labor and en­vir­on­ment­al en­force­ments. Obama com­pared the lib­er­al com­plaints to the ru­mors of “death pan­els” dur­ing the Obama­care de­bate.

But the line was seen as a slap in the face to some pro­gress­ives.

“It’s shame­ful to see Pres­id­ent Obama com­pare Demo­crats who op­pose fast-track­ing the TPP through Con­gress to Sarah Pal­in and the de­lu­sion­al ‘death pan­els’ rhet­or­ic,” said Charles Cham­ber­lain, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Demo­cracy for Amer­ica, in a state­ment. “Frankly, it’s be­neath this pres­id­ent to re­sort to such name-call­ing.”

The speech is the latest ef­fort in the Obama team’s hard sell to pro­gress­ives. A group of former Obama cam­paign of­fi­cials have also star­ted a pro-TPP group called the Pro­gress­ive Co­ali­tion for Amer­ic­an Jobs. On Fri­day, George Zor­nick of The Na­tion tweeted that Obama joined a press call with Labor Sec­ret­ary Thomas Perez on Fri­day and cri­ti­cized politi­cians who “send emails out to their fun­drais­ing base that they’re work­ing to stop a secret deal”—a not-so-subtle shot at War­ren.

More re­cently, Or­gan­iz­ing for Ac­tion sent out an email about TPA that Demo­crat­ic Un­der­ground pos­ted try­ing to ex­plain the im­port­ance of the le­gis­la­tion. The email also ar­gued that the term “fast track” for TPA was a mis­nomer be­cause TPA would have to go through Con­gress like any oth­er bill.

But pro­gress­ives use the term for TPA not be­cause the ac­tu­al TPA bill would be fast-tracked, but rather be­cause it would en­able trade bills to be sub­ject only to a vote without the abil­ity to amend, as War­ren wrote in a post on her web­site Thursday.

At the same time, pro­gress­ive groups are in­creas­ing their op­pos­i­tion to the trade deal.

“Our strategy is to make it clear to any­one in the Demo­crat­ic Party that this is a fun­da­ment­al threshold is­sue for claim­ing to sup­port the pro­gress­ive base,” Ben Wik­ler, Wash­ing­ton dir­ect­or for Mo­ve­On.org, told Na­tion­al Journ­al be­fore the speech.

Oth­er groups are keep­ing their eye on the 2016 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. Mur­shed Za­heed, deputy polit­ic­al dir­ect­or at Credo, said his or­gan­iz­a­tion has worked to rally its sup­port­ers to en­cour­age Hil­lary Clin­ton to op­pose TPA and TPP.

“If Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton says fast-track is a bad idea for all the ways we’ve been say­ing, it would em­bolden all of the Demo­crats and it would provide huge mo­mentum,” Za­heed told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “If they be­lieve their talk and mean what they’re say­ing, this is the first pass-fail test.”

Za­heed said that des­pite the fact that Clin­ton pre­vi­ously praised the TPP while sec­ret­ary of State, op­pos­ing the deal would have a real im­pact and would be taken in good faith.

Ready for War­ren, which is push­ing for a War­ren pres­id­en­tial can­did­acy, is try­ing to make the sen­at­or’s op­pos­i­tion a bench­mark for oth­er can­did­ates.

“Ready for War­ren is ur­ging all 2016 pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates, in­clud­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton, to join Eliza­beth War­ren’s call to make the TPP deal pub­lic,” said cam­paign man­ager Erica Sagrans in a state­ment.

As Con­gress as a whole will likely be­gin vot­ing on TPA—Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell told re­port­ers he wants to pass it dur­ing the cur­rent work peri­od be­fore Me­mori­al Day—the ad­min­is­tra­tion and its al­lies will likely keep push­ing for a trade deal it sees as one of the only pos­sible le­gis­lat­ive ac­com­plish­ments of its fi­nal years. But pro­gress­ive groups hope to use it as the first real lit­mus test for the Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign and the fledgling Demo­crat­ic primary race.

What We're Following See More »
Prosecutors Looking at Other Figures in Trump Org.
3 hours ago

In the wake of Michael Cohen's guilty plea, "the federal prosecutors in Manhattan shifted their attention to what role, if any, Trump Organization executives played in the campaign finance violations, according to people briefed on the matter. Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s self-described fixer, has provided assistance in that inquiry, which is separate from the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III."

Mueller Requests Four-Year Prison Time for Cohen
2 days ago

"Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, should receive a “substantial” prison term of roughly four years, federal prosecutors in New York said on Friday. Mr. Cohen, 52, is to be sentenced in Manhattan for two separate guilty pleas: one for campaign finance violations and financial crimes charged by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, and the other for lying to Congress in the Russia inquiry, filed by Mr. Mueller’s office."

Trump Nominates Bill Barr as AG
2 days ago
Mueller Questioning Trump Aide About Appearances on RT
3 days ago

"Robert Mueller is allegedly examining a Trump campaign adviser’s appearances on the Kremlin-controlled broadcaster RT, offering new hints about the investigation into possible collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump’s associates. Mueller’s investigators have asked Ted Malloch, the London-based American academic who is also close to Nigel Farage, about his frequent appearances on RT, which US intelligence authorities have called Russia’s principal propaganda arm."

Senate Passes Two-Week Stopgap
3 days ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.