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As Democrats Walk Out on Obama’s TPP Deal, Where Does Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton Stand?

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Former secretary of state, senator and first lady Hillary Clinton kicked off her White House bid to become the first woman U.S. president by highlighting her support for income equality, regulating Wall Street and vowing to fight for a fairer economy. On Sunday, she broke her silence on the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, saying President Obama “should listen to and work with his allies in Congress, starting with Nancy Pelosi, who have expressed their concerns about the impact that a weak agreement would have on our workers to make make sure we get the best, strongest deal possible. And if we don’t get it, there should be no deal.” Clinton’s comments come as the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday rejected the first in a series of trade bills despite President Obama making a personal plea for his own party’s support ahead of the vote. We speak with Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and author of “The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority”; and Jeffrey Sachs, a leading economist, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and author of “The Age of Sustainable Development.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Former secretary of state, senator and first lady Hillary Clinton has kicked off her White House bid to become the first woman U.S. president. In a major address on New York’s Roosevelt Island Saturday, Clinton highlighted her support for gay marriage, women’s rights, income equality, clean energy and regulating Wall Street. She also vowed to fight for a fairer economy for ordinary Americans.

HILLARY CLINTON: Prosperity can’t be just for CEOs and hedge fund managers. Democracy can’t be just for billionaires and corporations. Prosperity and democracy are part of your basic bargain, too. You brought our country back. Now it’s time, your time, to secure the gains and move ahead. And you know what? America can’t succeed unless you succeed. That is why I am running for president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, Hillary Clinton did not broach the one issue that has split the Democratic Party from its leadership, the issue of trade, and more specifically, the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal. The secretive TPP deal involves 12 countries and nearly 40 percent of the global economy. Clinton’s silence on the issue had garnered strong criticism from some members of her party and rivals seeking the nomination, including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. On Sunday, Clinton finally broke her silence and expressed sympathy for critics of the TPP, saying their concerns about free trade are valid.

HILLARY CLINTON: In order to get a deal that meets these high standards, the president should listen to and work with his allies in Congress, starting with Nancy Pelosi, who have expressed their concerns about the impact that a weak agreement would have on our workers, to make make sure we get the best, strongest deal possible. And if we don’t get it, there should be no deal.

AMY GOODMAN: Clinton’s statement on the TPP marks her most significant break with President Obama since her presidential campaign began. Her comments come just days after the U.S. House of Representatives delivered a major blow to the TPP. On Friday, House Democrats overwhelmingly rejected the first in a series of trade bills, despite President Obama making a personal plea for his own party’s support ahead of the vote.

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and author of The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority. And we’re joined by Jeffrey Sachs via Democracy Now! video stream. He’s a leading economist, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, author of many books, including, most recently, The Age of Sustainable Development.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Lori Wallach, let’s begin with you in Washington. Can you talk about what happened on Friday with the Democrats splitting from President Obama, including, significantly, Nancy Pelosi? And then address Hillary Clinton’s comments on the issue of TPP. Is she for it or against it?

LORI WALLACH: Well, first, on Friday, what happened requires a little bit of information about how we got there. So, fast track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but fast track, in general, has been very unpopular. It’s only been allowed for five of the last 21 years. So, to get it through the Senate, to get a few Democrats to support it, required also combining in the same piece of legislation a program called Trade Adjustment Assistance, an extension of that, which provides benefits for the workers who lose their jobs to the trade agreements that the fast track would enable. Those Senate Democrats required TAA to be part of the package as well as other guarantees.

That bill then went to the House. But in the House, fast track is enormously unpopular, as well, and the Republican leadership, knowing they would get very few Democrats to support it, had to maximize Republican votes. And the Republicans don’t like TAA. They hate TAA. Number one, it provides a body count of all of the workers hurt by bad trade policies, but they also see it as welfare for unions, because it gives retraining benefits, etc. So, they decided to do an incredible procedural gimmick, that is literally called the self-executing rule, and divide the question. They temporarily broke the trade package, passed by the Senate and sent over to the House, into three pieces. One piece was a $700 million Medicare cut, that was going to fund the TAA. Another piece was TAA, and another piece was fast track. And in order to pass the bill, to approve the bill the Senate sent to the House, and send it to the president to be signed, all the pieces had to be passed, and then that rule automatically put them all back together. The idea was, it was a way to let the Republicans vote for fast track but against TAA.

There was just one complication: The Democrats decided not to play by the Republicans’ rules. I mean, if you think about it, why would the Democrats, who passionately—most of them—oppose fast track for the TPP, vote for the TAA portion of the bill that makes it possible to send the fast track, that they hate, to the president to create fast track for TPP? Now, of course, it’s sad and—it’s sad that TAA had to be voted down as the way to do that. It’s a program that would provide maybe 70,000, 80,000 workers a year some kind of benefit, for those who have lost their jobs to past agreements. But the price of doing that would have been enacting a TPP that’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and push down all of our wages, plus enact a fast track for the next six years for whomever is president to do who knows what other job-killing trade agreement zooming through Congress. So, the way the stature of all of this works is, because the TAA title of the bill didn’t work, the self-executing rule couldn’t put everything back together, and so the entire proposition failed, as we all saw in the newspaper, and fast track is not passed.

AMY GOODMAN: So, where Clinton stands on this is absolutely key. I want to turn back to comments she made on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, speaking Sunday in Des Moines, Iowa, laying out what she believes needs to be done in order to reach a trade deal.

HILLARY CLINTON: First, let me start by saying, no president would be a tougher negotiator on behalf of American workers, either with our trading partners or Republicans on Capitol Hill, than I would be. In my time, eight years in the Senate, I voted for some trade agreements, and I voted against others. I think I have a pretty good idea of what we can do to meet the tests that I believe any trade agreement, especially TPP, must meet. It needs to, number one, protect American workers. Number two, it needs to raise wages and create good jobs at home. Number three, it needs to be in our national security interest. I’ve been saying that for months.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Hillary Clinton speaking on Sunday in Des Moines. We’re joined by economist Jeffrey Sachs, as well. Can you explain, although she says it has to include all of these things, and she has to read it—are people actually able to read the deal that is being proposed, Jeffrey Sachs? And does it satisfy you that—what Hillary Clinton has said, considering your anti-TPP position?

JEFFREY SACHS: Well, you can read parts of it on WikiLeaks, but you can’t read the real current documents, except if WikiLeaks gets its hands on them. This is extraordinarily secretive. And for that reason alone, in my view, the trade promotion should have been defeated, as it has at least provisionally been. Why are we agreeing to fast-track something that the American people have not seen and debated? And when President Obama said that it’s not true, it’s not secret, he’s not really leveling, because he says, “Well, the American people will get to review it,” but that’s only after it’s complete and subject only to an up-or-down vote, if fast track were to prevail.

So, the secrecy is very worrisome because we know that the lobbyists have swarmed all over these negotiations. This is not basically about trade. It’s basically about corporate prerogatives and investor privileges. And it includes many, many worrisome factors, such as a intellectual property boost for pharmaceutical industries and a notorious provision called the investor-state dispute settlement act, which really could weigh against governments carrying out their proper regulatory functions. Then the Republicans stuck in at the last moment a provision that said nothing about climate change can be part of this trade agreement. So, there are many, many traps, snares, landmines in this secretive agreement, in any event, and it should not go to fast track until the American people first have seen it and debated it, because there’s lots to worry about.

Now, Hillary’s statements yesterday, fine. The real heroes of this are Sander Levin, the ranking member of the Ways and Means; Nancy Pelosi, who showed great leadership on Friday; and Elizabeth Warren. They have been carrying this torch without much help from anybody else in—among the national leaders, including Hillary up until yesterday. But I’m glad that she stated what she did yesterday, because it’s a help. We’re not out of the woods yet, because there still is another vote coming, a lot of arm twisting. And we have to hope that the Democrats hold their position, because they’ve got it right.

AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, if Hillary Clinton had come out yesterday and said, “I am opposed to the TPP,” would it have killed it? And what does it mean, her raising concerns, with looking at her record? Was she deeply involved with the TPP and trade deals like this as secretary of state?

LORI WALLACH: Well, I think having a candidate say something that is helpful to the current debate, that casts suspicions on what’s going on, is good. Got more attention to it. I think that for her and for any candidate who’s running for president who says those kind of slightly amorphous things, that is where we get back to the fast track and what Jeff just said about the next stage going forward in Congress, because let’s just say Senator Clinton is elected as president, and then the question is: Under what authority will she be able to make trade agreements, the TPP or otherwise?

And so, going back to what’s going on in Congress, the most important thing everyone can do, to start with, is to thank every member of the House of Representatives who did the right thing. Because Jeff’s exactly right. The White House, the big corporate coalition, the GOP caucus, they’re coming back—the leadership—for another round this week of trying to revive the vote they lost. And the leader of this fight has been Congressman Rosa DeLauro. She’s done an amazing job over several years. A lot of members of Congress are really opposed to fast track. They were disgusted by the TAA that was put in front of them, the adjustment assistance. It was underfunded. It cut out lots of categories of workers, etc. It was accompanied by a cut in Medicare dialysis funding.

All around, I think our main piece of business is to thank those members of Congress—lots of Democrats, but a bloc of Republicans also—who voted to vote no on TPA, but very critically, those Democrats who voted no on TAA deserve our thanks. And when this vote may be replayed this week, we need them to continue to do the right thing and save us from fast-tracking the TPP. It’s a lot of pressure. The White House spent the whole weekend browbeating Democrats to try and get them to flip their votes on TAA, because if the TAA part of the bill is passed, that would send the whole fast-track package to the president’s desk. So the critical revote will be on TAA first, and then who knows what the Republican leadership will come up with next, so stay tuned.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeffrey Sachs, overall, Hillary Clinton’s rollout speech on Roosevelt Island on Saturday, and then in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sunday, can you talk about the approach she has taken? You have written about and talked about the Clinton Foundation. I mean, she is clearly affected by her running mate, Bernie Sanders, adopting a lot of the language—rather, her competitor, her opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination. Clearly, it has made a difference. Can you talk about where her support comes from and what she said, for example, about hedge funds? The top—what was it? The top five hedge fund investors have more money than all the kindergarten teachers throughout this United States and actually pay less taxes.

JEFFREY SACHS: First, I want to thank Lori for reminding us of the great leadership of Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, which was absolutely spectacular. Shame on me for not mentioning her among the top congressional leaders.

You know, the Democratic Party sold at least part of its soul, or part of the party sold its soul, back in 1992 when President Clinton triangulated and brought Wall Street into the fold. And that’s been the part of the party that the Clintons have been associated with for a very long time, dealing with the big bankers on Wall Street, big campaign financiers, a lot of triangulation, of course. They have promoted these trade agreements for years. They’ve been triangulating.

But she has two strong progressive opponents: Bernie Sanders and Governor Martin O’Malley. They’re both running against TPA strongly. They’re both calling for a new approach of the Democratic Party. And clearly, that message is reaching Hillary. So I’m glad with what she said yesterday. It’s a much better policy message. But given the past history, it’s not where she and President Clinton brought the Democratic Party over the past generation, so it remains to be seen what this really means. It is a very good sign, though, about what it’s going to take to win the Democratic primaries.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Jeffrey Sachs, speaking to us between international trips, thanks for joining us, leading economist and director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Among his books, The Age of Sustainable Development. And Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, author of The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority.

This is Democracy Now! It’s the 800th birthday of the Magna Carta. In our last segment, we’re going to Lincoln Castle, where the Magna Carta is housed. We’ll speak with people’s historian Peter Linebaugh. Stay with us.

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