The Democrats' simmering intra-party struggle over the Trans-Pacific Partnership has come to a boil this week, pitting President Barack Obama against Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and more pointedly, President Obama's supporters against the Warren Wing of the Democratic Party. The deal, and trade in general, have long been contentious issues among Democratic supporters, but with a vote looming on granting President Obama greater flexibility to negotiate the final deal, criticism from the Warren Wing has gotten increasingly louder. Then, shit got real:
Well, I guess they don`t want it to happen. And I love Elizabeth. We`re allies on a whole host of issues. But she`s wrong on this.
In an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews Tuesday night, President Obama defended the agreement, but in doing so, raised the hackles of the Warren Wing. When Sen. Warren took to Twitter to respond to the President, it was open warfare between her supporters and those of the President, and on Wednesday night's The Rachel Maddow Show, the deeper roots of the battle lines began to take shape, as host Rachel Maddow took pains to cast President Obama's remarks as a condescending sexist breach:
"Elizabeth" is known, to most people, as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. And that was President Obama in his interview with Chris Matthews yesterday, taking on Senator Warren specifically on the issue of trade. She is wrong, he said there, in case you missed it.
She sure told him. During the balance of the interview, Sen. Warren didn't press that point, but she didn't back away from it, either.
So, on the surface, we have a long-roiling policy debate over trade that President Obama described as the result of "reflexive" opposition to any trade deal, but the conflict has also become a flashpoint for longstanding race and gender issues among liberals. Many supporters of President Obama, particularly black supporters, have long been suspicious of various white-wing liberals whose loyalty to Obama barely runs skin deep, and who ditch their support for him at the drop of a hipster hat.
Anti-Obama liberals, meanwhile, have frequently had a go at President Obama over a variety of topics, including the occasional foray into sexism. This latest iteration casts an ugly pall over what should be a routine policy discussion, but is fast turning into a culture war between liberals.
As far as it goes, both groups probably have at least some reason to take offense, although President Obama's occasional tendency toward informality is, right or wrong, verifiably not gender-based. But on the substance, there is clearly no contest: President Obama is right, and Senator Warren is wrong.
More precisely, President Obama is telling the truth about the deal, and Senator Warren is not. Since the TPP deal is still under negotiation, the merits of the final agreement are (or will be) debatable, but the deceptive rhetoric being employed by Warren is not.
The issue of trade is one of the (rare) areas in which I consider myself a moderate Democrat, able to see the merits of both sides of the question, but persuadable in either direction. Like many Democrats, I've got a strong sense that in trade deals past, we've gotten screwed, and that our leaders have not properly leveraged the value of the American consumer. On the other hand, President Obama makes a compelling case that the trade choo-choo is leaving the station, with us or without us, and so we're better off having our hand somewhere on the throttle. Either way, I also believe that every leader needs political pressure from the left, because it makes them get us a better deal.
When it comes to Trade Promotion Authority, then, the question really boils down to a matter of trust: do you trust President Obama to get the very best deal possible, and want to give him the flexibility to do that? Just as in the case of the Iran nuclear deal, these are multi-party talks that are very complicated, and nearly impossible to conduct completely in the open.
This is not a new phenomenon, and one which Sen. Warren seems to understand in the context of the P5+1 talks. When she is shocked, SHOCKED that the TPP deal isn't available for public viewing while it is still being negotiated, she is not telling you the truth. She knows that the reason the deal isn't available while it's being negotiated is, right or wrong, because public pressure could, at any point, derail a flawed but fixable agreement. The reason she gives, however, is quite literally unbelievable:
Why? Here’s the real answer people have given me: “We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it.”
Seriously, Sen. Warren? "People" have given it to you? Way to narrow it down, because I was going to go away convinced you'd been advised by hoot owls, who are notorious liars. Why the secrecy, though? If these "people" are so sure TPP is a horrible deal, why can't we talk to them? Can other people besides you see them?
When Senator Warren calls TPP a "top secret" deal, she's not telling you the truth. Any member of Congress can see it now, and before Congress votes on it, the final deal will be posted online for 60 days. What we can see now is the USTR summary of the deal, which, granted, isn't the deal, but it isn't nothing.
Finally, when Senator Warren says that the TPA bill leaves us "virtually no ability to stop it from the Senate or the House," or concern-trolls about "fixing" a final deal through an amendments process that TPA shuts off, she's not telling you the truth. The final deal, after its 60-day public review period, will receive an up-or-down vote, which means Congress can quite easily stop the deal. It just means that a minority in Congress can't obstruct the deal. Ditto the amendments, which would not be a way to "fix" a final deal since the other 11 nations involved would also insist on that authority, irreparably gumming up the negotiations. Amendments, in this case, are a way to obstruct a final deal. See "nuclear deal, Iran" once again.
So, Elizabeth Warren may be right, TPP could end up being a horrible deal, and she's right not to trust Republican majorities in both chambers to put a stop to a bad deal, but what she's doing right now is eroding any trust Democrats ought to have in her. President Obama, on the other hand, has been open and honest about what he expects to be in the final deal, which we will all get to see and verify before anyone votes on it.
In the end, though, it boils down to trust. There will be a TPP with or without us, and if you're going to trust anyone to get us a good deal, it should be the person who is telling you the truth now, not the one who is nakedly deceiving you.