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Obama on Pacific Trade Deal: Opponents Are 'Wrong on This'

Appearing on MSNBC, President Barack Obama renewed his call Tuesday for so-called "fast-track" authority to negotiate a broad, multi-country trade deal.
/ Source: NBC News

In an appearance on MSNBC that was equal parts policy push and public relations tour, President Barack Obama renewed his call Tuesday for so-called "fast-track" authority to negotiate a broad, multi-country trade deal.

Negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious trade accord between the United States and 11 Pacific Rim and South American nations, would be a high point of the president’s economic legacy and result in the largest trade pact since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The trade accord would further shore up America’s economy by boosting competition and easing trade, Obama told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews during an interview Tuesday at the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce in Virginia.

But the president first has to win over opponents — including a contingent of congressional Democrats such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — who worry that the trade pact will result in American job losses by making it easier for companies to outsource jobs and suppress wages. They also worry about whether presidents should be able to ask Congress for an up-or-down vote on such sweeping trade agreements.

Those opponents, Obama said of Warren and others, are "wrong on this."

“I’ve spent the last six and a half years yanking this economy out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Every single think I’ve done from the Affordable Care Act to pushing to raise the minimum wage to making sure that young people are able to go to college and get good job training to what we’re pushing now in terms of sick pay leave," Obama told Matthews. "Everything I do has been focused on 'how do we make sure the middle class is getting a fair deal.' Now I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class.

"And when you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts they are wrong."

Still, Obama’s efforts will likely face stiff opposition.

Some Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who could next possibly serve as Senate Minority Leader, and Warren, worry about how the broader trade pact will affect American workers.

Trade agreements of this scope deserve Congressional scrutiny, they say.

“They're not good for the American people, they're not good for working men and women, it puts us at a disadvantage, so the answer is not only 'no,' but 'hell no’,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters on Tuesday.

Last week, after tense negotiation, leaders of tax committees in both congressional chambers agreed to legislation that gives Congress the right to vote on the trade deal — but blocks lawmakers from adding amendments that could slow the pact’s progress. To woo reluctant committee Democrats, an agreement was struck that would allow Congress to determine whether the accord meets human rights and environmental and worker protections. If the measure doesn't meet those standards lawmakers could offer amendments.

For her part, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently announced her presidential candidacy, has been cautious in how she speaks about the trade pact. President Bill Clinton helped get NAFTA through Congress back in 1994.

"Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security," she told reporters in New Hampshire on Tuesday. "And we need to do our part to make sure we have the capacity and the skills to be competitive."

— Halimah Abdullah