[DES MOINES] Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton on Sunday urged President Barack Obama to work with congressional Democrats who rejected his trade agenda last week, and to seek tougher labour protections in a proposed Pacific trade deal.
Ms Clinton had until now declined to take a stand on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but her comments amounted to an implicit rebuke of Mr Obama and a nod toward liberal critics of the deal.
At a campaign stop in Iowa, Ms Clinton said Mr Obama should work with opponents like House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who engineered the defeat of a related trade package last week. "I am willing to try now to see whether you can push to get rid of the objectionable parts, to drive a harder bargain on some of the other parts," Ms Clinton said.
If Mr Obama does not get the best deal possible, "there should be no deal," said Ms Clinton, who is the front-runner among candidates to be the Democratic Party nominee for the November 2016 election.
Critics on the left and right have criticised Ms Clinton for not taking a stand on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Ms Clinton has expressed reservations about free trade deals in the past, but she played a central role in trade talks with the 11 countries involved in the TPP as Mr Obama's secretary of state.
The pact is shaping up to be a significant test for Ms Clinton as her party has grown more suspicious of the merits of free trade since her husband, Bill Clinton, signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, into law as president in 1993.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a rival for the Democratic nomination and fierce critic of free trade, pressed her to come out against it before Congress takes up the issue again this week. "Corporate America and Wall Street are going to bring that bill back," Sanders said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "If she joins us, we could stop this disastrous deal once and for all." Republicans have used the issue to raise questions about her sincerity. "Pick a position. I mean, that's what leaders do,"Republican Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a leading advocate of the trade deal, said on "Fox News Sunday." The trade package before Congress would give Mr Obama's administration greater authority to negotiate trade deals without interference from lawmakers, who would be limited to an up-or-down vote once the deal was completed.
It also would provide benefits for workers who lost their jobs due to globalization, a provision Ms Clinton and other Democrats support in principle but rejected as part of their strategy to scuttle the wider trade package.