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Sanders, joined by Rust Belt Democrats, praises Trump for nixing TPP

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaigns for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the University of Cincinnati in November. (John Minchillo/AP)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), who campaigned hard against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in last year’s Democratic presidential primaries, praised President Trump for an executive order to officially pull the United States out of the deal.

“I am glad the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead and gone,” Sanders said. “For the last 30 years, we have had a series of trade deals — including the North American Free Trade Agreement, permanent normal trade relations with China and others — which have cost us millions of decent-paying jobs and caused a ‘race to the bottom’ which has lowered wages for American workers. Now is the time to develop a new trade policy that helps working families, not just multinational corporations. If President Trump is serious about a new policy to help American workers, then I would be delighted to work with him.”

President Trump signed an executive order formally withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. (Video: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

Most Democrats in Congress opposed the TPP, putting them at odds with the Obama administration. During the campaign, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton came out against the TPP after praising the negotiations that had resulted in it. After the election, Sanders and others saw Trump’s victory as the stake through the heart of the trade deal.

And on Monday, Democrats who, like Sanders, had campaigned against Trump, joined him in saluting the executive order.

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“I support President Trump’s issuing of an executive orders that will pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and his recent steps to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),” Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) said in a statement. “NAFTA has adversely impacted middle class families in Pennsylvania and the TPP would have cost jobs and hurt income growth, which is why I voted against fast tracking the deal in 2015.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) shared a similar reaction on Twitter:

Like Sanders, both Baldwin and Casey are up for reelection in 2018. Unlike Sanders, both watched their states break for Trump in 2016 after decades of solid Democratic wins.

That victory not only emboldened the trade skeptics in the Democratic Party but also stirred a sense of urgency for the party to abandon any “neoliberal” tendencies. With Clinton defeated and Barack Obama in retirement, no leading Democrat now supports major international trade deals. In an interview this month with The Washington Post, Obama labor secretary Tom Perez, now a candidate to run the Democratic National Committee, pointedly declined to say what the end of the TPP meant for workers.

Other forces on the left have gone further, asking that they, not Trump, get the credit for the turn against the TPP — and pointing out that by the end, it was Republicans in Congress who wanted it passed. In a statement Monday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that “a powerful coalition of labor, environmental, consumer, public health and allied groups came together to stop the TPP,” giving little credit to Trump.

“Today’s announcement that the U.S. is withdrawing from TPP and seeking a reopening of NAFTA is an important first step toward a trade policy that works for working people,” Trumka said. “While these are necessary actions, they aren’t enough. They are just the first in a series of necessary policy changes required to build a fair and just global economy. We will continue our relentless campaign to create new trade and economic rules that end special privileges for foreign investors and Big Pharma, protect our planet’s precious natural resources and ensure fair pay, safe conditions and a voice in the workplace for all workers.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) insisted in a statement that “TPP was dead long before President Trump took office.”

“We await real action on trade,” he said.