Former Secretary of State and current future Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has been threading the flaming needle that is the Senator Elizabeth Warren/President Obama feud for the soul of the Democratic Party, and on Tuesday, she got a little help from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. To date, Clinton has managed to walk the line on trade by expressing concerns about the deals that are currently wending their way through Congress, while also reserving judgment until the final Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is released.
The White House, for its part, has done its level best to stay out of 2016 politics, but a couple of months ago, Fox News’ Ed Henry managed to crack their prime directive when he asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest to describe Clinton’s role, as secretary of state, in bringing Iran to the table for the current nuclear deal. At that time, Earnest was effusive in his praise of Clinton’s efforts in that regard, so at Tuesday’s White House daily briefing, I asked Earnest of he’d offer a similar assessment of her tenure in the administration on the issue of trade.
Let’s just say he was less than eager to help out:
Tommy Christopher: You made some statements, a few weeks ago, about her involvement in the Iran nuclear deal, and I’m wondering if you have a similar assessment of her involvement here.
Josh Earnest: I don’t. Again, she talked about that quite a bit — publicly — when she was the secretary.
Earnest’s reluctance to praise then-Secretary of State Clinton’s efforts on behalf of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, especially when contrasted with his earlier praise for her on the equally-divisive Iran nuclear deal, looks more like a political calculation for Clinton’s benefit than anything else. While heading the State Department, Clinton was a vocal booster of TPP, which, as Earnest pointed out, is all a matter of public record. Why was it okay for the White House to praise Clinton over the Iran deal, which many Democrats oppose, but not the TPP?
Whatever the calculations, they don’t seem like the kind of thing the White House press office would decide on its own. Someone made the judgment that Clinton would benefit politically from being associated with the Iran deal, and that she’d be better off calling her own audibles on trade. It’s smart politics for everyone involved, because President Obama can probably win the trade fight without Clinton, but he’d much rather hand that deal off to President Hillary Clinton, even if it means letting her keep some distance from it for awhile.