WASHINGTON ― As Hillary Clinton’s election victory appears increasingly likely, liberal groups already have their sights on the next battle: defeating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
While congressional Republican leaders must still green-light the votes, the move has confirmed for many progressive activists that the White House plans to go all-in for the accord during the lame-duck session of Congress after the November election.
If brought for a vote right now, the prospects of the TPP passing the House would still be bleak. The law allowing the agreement to get a so-called fast-track vote ― no amendments, filibusters or other procedural hurdles ― relied heavily on Republican votes, and enough Republicans have now signaled their opposition to the TPP to ensure its defeat.
But relying on the whims of Republicans during a lame-duck session of Congress is not something the labor unions and progressive netroots organizations want to bank on. Instead, they are preparing to devote resources to the TPP’s downfall in the coming months.
Even before Obama’s action on Friday, many progressives decided to seek Hillary Clinton’s help driving nails into the TPP’s coffin.
Two online progressive activism outfits, Democracy for America and CREDO, along with economist Robert Reich, are collecting signatures for a petition asking Clinton to publicly condemn a vote on TPP in the lame-duck session of Congress after the general election.
CREDO has funded a digital video ad calling on Clinton to do the same.
“Despite the fact that DFA is strongly supporting Sec. Clinton against the billionaire bigot she is running against, we are urging her strongly to stick with her agenda and go even further,” said Neil Sroka, communications director of Democracy for America.
“There is this tendency in politics to treat this as a team sport where my side is always right and the other side is always wrong,” Sroka added. “Working hard and holding leaders accountable means being able to walk and chew gum at the same time ― pushing hard for our nominee and holding candidates accountable on issues that matter to us.”
Asked for comment, the Clinton campaign did not explicitly respond to the idea of publicly opposing a vote on the trade deal. Instead, a spokesman directed HuffPost to Clinton’s remarks during an economic speech last week, in which she expressed her opposition to TPP in the strongest terms to date.
“I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Clinton said while speaking at an advanced manufacturing facility in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. “I oppose it now. I’ll oppose it after the election. And I’ll oppose it as president.”
“Working hard and holding leaders accountable means being able to walk and chew gum at the same time ― pushing hard for our nominee and holding candidates accountable on issues that matter to us.”
While progressive groups applauded Clinton’s comments, they were less pleased with the appointment Tuesday of former Colorado Democratic Sen. and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as the head of her transition team. Salazar, who has a history of strong ties to the oil and gas industries, is a staunch proponent of the TPP and has promoted it in several op-ed columns.
Progressives certainly have reason to doubt the depth of Clinton’s opposition to the TPP. She came around to opposing the deal last October under pressure from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), but spoke glowingly about it as secretary of state.
And many fear a repeat of Obama’s bait-and-switch on trade. As a presidential candidate, he ran as something of a trade skeptic, claiming he would re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement ― only to govern as a proponent of massive new trade agreements once in office.
In the wake of the Salazar appointment, these progressives believe calling on Obama and Democratic leadership not to hold a lame-duck vote on the trade deal is the perfect way for Clinton to restore liberal confidence in her on the issue of trade.
“If she were to do that, it would put to rest once and for all any uncertainty about her position ― and more importantly ensure that this agreement that she says is bad for the country does not become law,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
Shane Larson, the legislative director of the Communications Workers of America, a leading TPP opponent and one of the few labor unions that backed Sanders in the primary, said that in lieu of joining calls to get Clinton more involved in the fight against TPP, the union is “focused on our congressional efforts right now.”
Nonetheless, he added, “We support what CREDO and DFA are doing.”
“When you have a president desperate to have this happen in his last days in office, all bets are off.”
The 700,000-member union, which represents many employees of Verizon, The Huffington Post’s parent company, is also planning a day of national action against the TPP in September. From now until the election, it will educate its members about candidates’ positions on the TPP, and hold protests and rallies at congressional offices. After the election, it plans to step up its lobbying efforts against a lame-duck vote. Should a vote become inevitable, it will fight against the deal’s passage.
Meanwhile, the Rock the TPP tour, a band of anti-TPP musical acts led by Tom Morello, will include a series of TPP-themed shows, teach-ins and other creative actions throughout August and September.
For now though, progressives’ greatest hope may actually be the candidacy of Donald Trump, who has exposed the depth of grassroots Republican voters’ aversion to free-trade deals.
While it is hard to quantify exactly how Trump has affected congressional support for the TPP, it is indisputable that Trump’s ardent opposition to free-trade agreements has created a more hostile climate for TPP and agreements like it. In addition, the depressing effect of Trump’s flagging candidacy on down-ballot candidates has made GOP lawmakers favorable to the trade pact on the policy merits, less willing to take political risks.
In the past month alone, 12 Republican House members who voted to approve fast-track authority for trade agreements have announced their opposition to the TPP, including Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), a Senate candidate in Louisiana and the chairman of the Friends of the TPP congressional caucus. In the Senate, Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), ardent free-traders facing touch reelection battles, have announced their opposition to the deal.
The GOP’s challenge “is holding together a base of voters who are religiously conservative, but working-class and don’t have a college degree, and have been slammed by these trade agreements, and their cosmopolitan, wealthy donor class,” Wallach said. “What Trump has done is basically ripped that wide open.”
But Wallach said she does not underestimate the power of a lame-duck president on a mission to enact what he believes is an essential component of his legacy. Public Citizen and its partners are preparing for a contentious battle after the election is over.
“When you have a president desperate to have this happen in his last days in office, all bets are off,” she said.