The White House is again trying to quell concerns made by Sen. Elizabeth Warren about a certain aspect of a proposed free trade agreement, widening an existing gap in President Obama and Warren’s long, complicated relationship.
During a Wednesday conference call organized by the Alliance for Justice, the Massachusetts Democrat warned against part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement that would allow individuals to sue foreign governments of countries where they invest. Warren said this aspect of the trade agreement could allow multinational corporations to use such legal action to weaken U.S. law.
The White House has said it is promoting stronger safeguards and transparency in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But Warren criticized the lack of transparency from the administration, which has said it is putting in place safeguards.
“They refuse to make the text of the trade agreement public,” Warren said on the conference call. “If they are sure that they fixed this problem, they need to show us the new provisions, not wave their hands around and say don’t worry.”
The Hill reported that after the call, the White House released a fact sheet explaining that the U.S. is taking steps to ensure the trade agreements it is part of are crafted to preserve its and other governments’ abilities to make regulations.
This isn’t the first time the White House and Warren have clashed over the TPP. In February, Warren wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post saying the Investor-State Dispute Settlements could weaken labor and environmental regulations, which prompted the administration to say it would not undermine U.S. sovereignty or grant new rights to multinational companies.
White House-Warren spats go beyond trade regulations. Late last year, Warren criticized the administration’s nomination of Antonio Weiss, a former banker at Lazard, for undersecretary for domestic finance at the Treasury Department. Weiss ultimately pulled himself out of the nominating process and instead became a counselor to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
There’s a long, tangled history between Warren and the Obama administration, which brought her into politics to begin with. Previously a professor at Harvard Law School, Warren was tapped to lead the Congressional Oversight Panel as part of the 2008 bank bailout. Warren also served as an Obama assistant in 2010 for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which Warren supported. Faced with Senate opposition, Obama chose to nominate Richard Cordray to be the bureau’s director over Warren.
The Obama administration has also teamed up with Warren when Obama called on the Department of Labor to move forward on rulemaking regarding a “fiduciary standard” for retirement advisers. Obama said the rule would require retirement advisers to put their clients’ interest before their own interest.
The fact the White House keeps responding to Warren shows the uneasy position the White House is in. On one hand, Warren has continued to criticize the administration. But on the other, the administration knows she represents a wing of the Democratic party that they’ll need to push their own incentives and help the party succeed beyond 2016.