CONCORD, N.H. - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton hedged Tuesday on whether she will support a trade package gaining traction in Congress but opposed by some in her party’s politically potent liberal wing.
"Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security,” Clinton said during a tour of a community college that focuses on technical skills. “We have to do our part in making sure we have the capabilities and the skills to be competitive."
That fell short of an endorsement of the Trade Promotion Authority bill, which would give President Obama and Congress renewed authority to “fast track” approval of trade deals. That authority, which lapsed in 2007, would speed up two pending trade deals with Asia and Europe.
Of chief concern to unions and progressives is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive 12-nation partnership that Clinton backed as secretary of state and hailed in her State Department memoir published last year.
The issue puts Clinton in a difficult spot between the pro-business and pro-labor wings of the party, and is being closely watched by liberals who would prefer a more adamantly left-leaning candidate to carry the Democratic banner. Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, who is considering a longshot presidential bid, sent out a barbed tweet shortly after Clinton made her remarks:
Clinton's campaign has previously said that she will closely watch efforts to complete the deal, known as the TPP. "We shouldn't be giving special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers," Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said last week.
She avoided the subject when she sat with labor leaders for a discussion at the liberal Center for American progress last month, before her campaign had begun.
Critics claim the deal would do what past trade deals are blamed for doing – threatening manufacturing jobs and eroding the living standards of American workers. Many unions oppose it along with potential Clinton challengers such as O'Malley and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Another TPP critic, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), has said she is not running for president but remains influential among progressives.
At an anti-TPP protest in Washington on Monday, Sanders called on Clinton to clarify her position.
"She's going to have to be clear. It's not a question of watching this," Sanders said. "You're going to have determine which side are you on? Are you on the side of working people who would suffer as a result of this disastrous trade agreement, and seeing their jobs go to China or Mexico, or are you on the side of corporate America? It's not a very difficult choice."
The Obama administration and congressional supporters of the deal say it would help American exports and thus create jobs, and defend protections for overseas workers. But the president has also acknowledged strong opposition to the deal among Democrats, saying on Friday: "The politics around trade has always been tough, particularly in the Democratic party, because people have memories of outsourcing and job loss."
Clinton’s two-day visit to New Hampshire is intended both to honor the state’s status as the site of the first presidential primary and to showcase her campaign theme of economic empowerment. Clinton met students and instructors at the New Hampshire Technical Institute, and opened her remarks by saying she wants to “make being middle class mean something again.”
“You really represent what I think is best about what’s going on in our economy, and in education,” Clinton said.
Students told her there is a “stigma” attached to attending a community college or trade school, something Clinton said she wants to change.
“We need to really add prestige and distinction to the work that we need done in America,” Clinton said, including skilled trade work.
Student Aurora Van De Water made Clinton laugh as she described the difference between the more general coursework common in the early years of a four-year college and the hands-on education she said she is getting now.
At many four-year engineering schools, Van De Water said, “they don’t let you touch the machines. They don’t want you breathing on them.”
In her second week of campaigning, Clinton is asking a lot of questions and small public events like the ones Tuesday, while also meeting with supporters. She will begin raising money in person next week, with $2,700-a-head events in New York and Washington.
When told the two-year school's motto - "Start here, go anywhere" - Clinton quipped: "This is a good omen."