President Obama rallied his staunchest allies Thursday to support his free trade push in the face of stout Democratic opposition, arguing that his critics are wrong to say the deal will harm the middle class.
Appearing before 200 members of Organizing for Action, the progressive advocacy group born from his campaign apparatus, Obama said the 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact his administration is pushing for is far superior to past trade deals that labor unions have blamed for job losses. Specifically, he cited the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
"I've got some good friends opposed to this trade agreement and when I ask them specifically, 'What do you oppose?' they start talking about NAFTA," Obama said at the Ritz Carlton. "I’m thinking, 'I just came out of law school when NAFTA was passed.' That’s not the trade agreement I’m passing. You need to tell me what's wrong with this trade agreement, not one that was passed 25 years ago."
Two days after talking about trade in a roundtable in Northern Virginia moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Obama laid out his most forceful case yet that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would boost the U.S. economy. Congress is considering "fast-track" legislation that would give him authority to present the pact to lawmakers for a vote without them being allowed to amend it.
The bill advanced out of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, but it faces hurdles in both chambers with Democrats who are largely opposed.
"Trade’s always been tough; it's always been tough for the Democratic Party. A lot of people are skeptical of trade deals," Obama said. "But we're not going to stop the global economy at our shores. We can't go back to the past. We shouldn't want to. We need to make sure we win the future."
Obama appeared incredulous about the criticism he has faced from many Democrats who contend that the TPP would exacerbate job losses and income inequality. The president emphasized that his top domestic priority was saving the economy after taking office in 2009 amid a historic recession.
"This logic that I would do all this stuff the last 6½ years and then suddenly say, 'I just want to destroy all of that.' Does that make sense?" Obama asked his audience.
Someone yelled, "No!"
"Right answer," Obama said. "It does not."