At the start of the day, the Republican Party was set to approve new, critical language about trade agreements in its platform, including opposition to a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership for the rest of President Obama's term. But at the party's platform meeting in Cleveland on Monday, that language was struck -- a move that spared pro-TPP Republicans as well as Democrats who are worried that presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump's party could outflank them on an issue key to labor unions.
A draft of the platform, obtained first by Time magazine, included criticism of "free trade" that reflected Trump's primary-winning rhetoric. "We need better negotiated trade agreements that put America first," it read. "Republicans understand that you can succeed in a negotiation only if you are willing to walk away from it. A Republican president will insist on parity in trade and stand ready to implement countervailing duties if other countries refuse to cooperate."
Later, the platform got more specific about the key trade issue facing Congress this year. "Decisions of the magnitude of the Trans Pacific Partnership should not be rushed or undertaken in a Lame Duck Congress," it read.
Just two days earlier, similar language had been proposed for the Democratic platform by supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who argued -- correctly -- that the Republicans were on the verge of opposing the TPP in their own platform.
"We are facing something that in all my years campaigning against bad trade agreements we have never seen before, which is a Republican opponent who intends to run clearly against the TPP," said Benjamin Jealous, a former president of the NAACP and a Sanders delegate from Maryland. "We have it on good authority that the draft GOP platform speaks clearly against the TPP."
But in Cleveland, critics of the language quickly won out. “I think we should take out TPP completely,” Tracey Monroe-Winburn, an Ohio delegate, told Politico. “We have some senators who are running across the country that were in support of it at one time.”
The rest of the trade section's language was similar to what Republicans had written in the past. But even the absence of TPP language would represent a shift from 2012. That year, the party put itself on the record for a TPP to be negotiated by a Republican president.
"Because American workers have shown that, on a truly level playing field, they can surpass the competition in international trade, we call for the restoration of presidential Trade Promotion Authority," it read. "It will ensure up or down votes in Congress on any new trade agreements, without meddling by special interests. A Republican President will complete negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open rapidly developing Asian markets to U.S. products."
Ed O'Keefe in Cleveland contributed to this report.