Just hours after her campaign chairman told "Meet the Press" she was taking a wait-and-see approach on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was on the stump Sunday siding with House Democrats against President Barack Obama.
Resistance within his own party to his trade push could actually strengthen America's hand at the bargaining table Clinton told a campaign rally in Des Moines, CNN
Any deal should protect American workers and improve security, she told a crowd of 600 supporters at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
"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 sure we get the best, strongest deal possible," Clinton said. "And if we don't get it, there should be no deal."
Clinton didn't take a position on TPP specifically, or on the action last week of House Democrats voting down trade promotion authority for the president.
Her campaign manager, John Podesta, said on "Meet the Press" that Clinton is waiting to see what's in a final agreement before rendering judgment on TPP.
Clinton echoed that in Des Moines, saying, "There are some specifics in there that could and should be changed. So I am hoping that's what happens now. Let's take the lemons and turn it into lemonade."
Clinton in the past has been more specific in her criticisms, saying trade deals should be tough on countries that devalue their own currencies for price advantages of their own goods. The White House says no such rule will be included in TPP.
She also has been critical of a rule allowing an international arbiter to rule on whether a country's laws and regulations violate the trade deal.
But in several years past, Clinton has praised the potential deal, "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd noted Sunday.
In 2010, she called it an "exciting opportunity," in 2011, a "benchmark for future agreements," in 2012 a "gold standard for trade agreements" in 2012, and in 2013 said it could "really enhance our relationship with Asia."
Clinton also implied that if she were president she would negotiate tougher with countries such as Japan, Australia, Canada and Mexico than Obama has, CNN reported.
"No president would be a tougher negotiator on behalf of American workers, either with our trade partners or Republicans on Capitol Hill, than I would be," she said.
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.
The White House and Republican leaders in Congress now face long odds in trying to revive the trade legislation after congressional Democrats helped defeat a job retraining program in order to jeopardize 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 announced on the House floor last week that she would side with 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.
Trade has emerged as an early divider within the Democratic primary. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was campaigning in Iowa on Sunday, has opposed the trade deal and questioned Clinton's refusal to say where she stood.
"It is a failed trade policy, and I would hope that the Secretary joins Elizabeth Warren, and the vast majority of Democrats in the Congress in saying, 'No, we've got to defeat this piece of legislation,'" Sanders said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has also opposed the deal. In a sign of its resonance within the party, his campaign noted in an email to supporters Saturday that Clinton's speech in New York didn't "weigh in on the secretive TPP deal that could depress American wages and cost American jobs."
The Obama administration has said it remains confident there are ways to get the trade provisions through Congress. Republican leaders generally support Obama's trade proposal and have suggested they may try to revive the bill as early as this week.
"Republicans delivered," said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on "Fox News Sunday." ''The question is, are the Democrats going to do this to their president."
While Clinton called the 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, seeking to build an organizational edge in the state that tripped up her first presidential campaign against Obama. Sanders was campaigning across the state and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who is exploring a potential Democratic bid, also was holding events in Iowa on Sunday. O'Malley held a day's events in the state last week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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