The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders takes aim at Hillary Clinton on trade

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CONCORD – Bernie Sanders says it’s time Hillary Clinton takes a stance on a controversial trade deal that’s dividing Democrats.

And the independent senator from Vermont, who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, told NH1 News Wednesday he’s not concerned about more competition on the left.

At an event in downtown Concord Wednesday, one day after formally kicking off his campaign at a large rally in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, Sanders was critical of Clinton: “I just don’t know how you don’t have an opinion on this important issue.”

The issue is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade deal the United States is negotiating with more than a dozen Pacific Rim countries. Last Friday, the former secretary of state told reporters following an event in Hampton that “we don’t yet have all the details. It’s not as I’m told, been fully negotiated yet. I do have concerns. I do have concerns that the standards will not be tough enough, not enforceable.”

“I want to judge this when I see what’s exactly is in it and whether it meets my standards,” added Clinton, the overwhelming frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

Sanders told the Washington Post and NH1 News that the time had come for Clinton to clarify her position. “I think it’s important for Secretary Clinton and all candidates, not just Secretary Clinton, to have an opinion on the issue. You can be for it, you can be against it. I’m against it.”

“Trade is one of the important issues facing the United States of America and there’s right now a very hot debate in the Congress over whether or not we pass this TPP," Sanders added. "I believe that NAFTA, CAFTA, normal trade relations with China and other trade agreements have been a disaster for the working families in this country because corporations have used these trade agreements to shut down, move to China, and other low wage countries. The president of the United States, who I like, disagrees with me. There are other people who disagree with me. That’s called democracy.”

Sanders talked to NH1 News moments after speaking to a couple of hundred energized supporters who packed into New England College’s Concord offices. Sanders excited the crowd by pledging that “every public college and public university in this country will be tuition free.”

He also called for a single-payer health care system.

Near the end of the event, speaking about Clinton, one passionate Sanders supporter told the senator: “I want to be able to kick her butt. We need to move ahead. What can we do to get this moving forward. Why can’t we ask Hillary to give up her spot and give it to you?”

After giving the crowd a moment to laugh, Sanders responding, saying “I could be wrong but I suspect she [Clinton] would disagree with you.”

Since last autumn, Sanders, a former Burlington mayor and congressman who describes himself as a Democratic socialist, has been a frequent visitor to the first-in-the-nation primary state. While he’s a long shot against Clinton, he has strong support among many progressives and liberals, who had been hoping for a White House run by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

But Sanders will soon have competition on the left. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s expected to announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination on Saturday. And former Rhode Island senator and governor Lincoln Chafee appears to be moving towards launching a presidential campaign next month.

Sanders dismissed the competition. “I think the more the merrier and I look forward to an issue orientated campaign and debate.”

Following the event at New England College’s Concord office, Sanders walked about a block north, to speak to an overflow crowd that had patiently waited in the heat to see the senator.

“We’re going to be back here in New Hampshire, we’re going to be running a very grassroots campaign," he vowed. "That’s what I’ve always done in Vermont and that’s what we’re going to do here. That means town meetings, that means rallies, that means knocking on doors.”

“We’re with ya,” yelled two supporters, as the crowd cheered.

Wednesday late afternoon Sanders held an event in Epping. And in the evening he was scheduled to hold a rally in Portsmouth.