Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Friday that although she has "real concerns" about the major trade pact President Barack Obama is currently negotiating, she will not take a formal position on the agreement until she has reviewed the final deal.
Since it is currently illegal for Clinton to see drafts of the agreement, her comments suggest she will not be weighing in on trade policy until well after Congress has decided whether to grant Obama powers to expedite its passage. Although Clinton helped craft parts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership during her tenure as secretary of state, the extreme secrecy conditions Obama has imposed on the pact with 11 other nations bar her from viewing it.
"I do have concerns," Clinton told reporters at a campaign stop in New Hampshire. "I have concerns that the standards will not be tough enough or enforceable. I have concerns about currency manipulation, which has been a big problem in the impact our companies and workers. I have concerns about the investor settlement dispute mechanism allowing them to challenge health and environmental and labor provisions."
"I've been for trade agreements, against some, for others," she added. "I want to judge this when I see exactly what is in it and whether or not I think it meets my standards."
Clinton's concerns are standard Democratic objections to the TPP. Obama has aggressively opposed efforts to address those issues, calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other trade critics "dishonest." Obama is currently seeking fast-track authority that would prevent Congress from amending or filibustering any deal that Obama eventually reaches. Warren and other Democrats have pressed Obama to publicly release the deal before Congress votes on the fast-track provision, but Obama has kept the text classified. The Senate is expected to approve fast-track this week with broad Republican support, but the administration is dozens of votes shy of House approval, where Democrats are joined by a bloc of tea party Republicans in opposition.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is also seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination for the 2016 election, is strongly opposed to both TPP and fast-track.
While members of Congress are now permitted to see draft negotiation texts, they can only do so in a secure facility near the Capitol, and cannot keep copies. Only staff with a security clearances are allowed to accompany members of Congress, and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and others have complained that the administration has blocked information for even cleared staffers.
"Sometimes I feel -- and I only say this half-jokingly -- like we have more access to the Iran negotiations," Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said recently.
One of Warren's chief objections to the deal involves a process called Investor State Dispute Settlement, which allows foreign corporations to challenge domestic laws and regulations before an international tribunal.
In her book Hard Choices, Clinton also took aim at the mechanism.
"We should avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own, like giving them or their investors the power to sue foreign governments to weaken their environmental and public health rules, as Philip Morris is already trying to do in Australia," Clinton wrote. "The United States should be advocating a level and fair playing field, not special favors."
Labor unions, environmentalists and Internet freedom groups strongly oppose TPP, while corporate lobbyists including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are in favor.
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