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Clinton: Obama should use trade fight to his advantage

June 14, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that President Barack Obama should use a setback in Congress to seek the best possible trade agreement with a 11 other Pacific Rim nations, pointing to the stumbles over the pact as an opportunity to address Democrats’ concerns about job protections and wages.

“Let’s take the lemons and turn it into lemonade,” Clinton told more than 700 supporters at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, addressing the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade proposal that has splintered Obama from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and rank-and-file Democrats.

Courting Iowa voters, Clinton sought to address Democratic opponents of the trade legislation, including liberals and labor unions, who have said the Obama-backed plan will cost U.S. jobs. The agreement has not been finalized or submitted to Congress.

Clinton sought to distance herself from Obama, urging him to listen to Pelosi and Democrats “to make sure we get the best, strongest deal possible. And if we don’t get it, there should be no deal.”

“I have held my peace because I thought it was important for the Congress to have a full debate without thrusting presidential politics and candidates into it,” Clinton said at a house party in Burlington, Iowa. “But now I think the president and his team could have a chance to drive a harder bargain.”

Trade has emerged as an early divider between Clinton and her lesser-known rivals in the Democratic presidential race who are trying to outflank her on the left. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was campaigning in Iowa on Sunday, again called on Clinton to oppose the Pacific trade deal.

“It is a failed trade policy, and I would hope that the secretary joins ... the vast majority of Democrats in the Congress in saying, ‘No, we’ve got to defeat this piece of legislation,‘” Sanders said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has also opposed the deal and likened it to the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. In a statement that did not mention Hillary Clinton by name, O’Malley said Democratic leaders should “step up and urge Congress not to fast track this bad trade deal.” He said NAFTA “devastated communities across the country and cost a million American jobs.”

The White House and Republican leaders in Congress now face long odds in trying to revive the trade legislation after congressional Democrats helped defeat parts of the plan last week, including Obama’s attempt to secure so-called fast track authority. Without the power to negotiate trade deals that Congress can approve or reject, but not amend, the president would face difficulty in securing the Asia trade deal that his administration has worked toward for years.

Pelosi decided to side with the overwhelming majority of House Democrats and oppose Obama’s plan, saying it required a “a better deal for America’s workers.”

Clinton appeared to be seeking a middle ground, saying while some support the deal and others vehemently oppose it, “I kind of fall in the group that says ‘what’s in it?’ And ‘let’s make it as good as it can be, and then let’s make a decision.’” She said Obama had an “amazing opportunity” to negotiate better terms and reiterated the criteria of worker protections, wages and national security provisions she would seek in a final deal.

Clinton said any deal should include the scuttled Trade Adjustment Assistance program to help retrain workers.

The Obama administration expressed confidence Sunday that Congress will approve the trade provisions. Republican leaders generally support Obama’s proposal and have suggested they may try to revive the bill as early as this week. “Republicans delivered,” said Rep. Paul Ryan on “Fox News Sunday.” ″The question is, are the Democrats going to do this to their president.”

While Clinton called the Pacific pact the “gold standard” of trade agreements while serving as secretary of state, she has refused to take a position on the deal since announcing her candidacy. That brought criticism from Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short on Sunday.

“By waffling on a trade deal she helped negotiate and once called a ‘gold standard,’” Hillary Clinton continues to show why voters overwhelmingly see her as dishonest and untrustworthy,” Short said in a statement.

Clinton was spending most of the weekend in Iowa after formally launching her campaign in New York City on Saturday, seeking to build an organizational edge in the state whose leadoff caucuses tripped up her first presidential campaign against Obama in 2008.

On the Republican side, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents, planned to make his candidacy official during a Monday afternoon rally in Miami, joining at least 10 other major Republicans in a crowded race with no clear front-runner.

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