President Obama learned the hard way this week that it’s usually not a great idea to bad-mouth members of his own party in public. The payback came Tuesday, when Senate Democrats, with one lone exception, slapped down his “fast-track” trade-expansion deal with 11 nations around the Pacific.
But Wednesday, Senate Democrats reached a deal allow full-blown debate on the issue. This time, Mr. Obama should try persuasion and cajoling, even negotiating, instead of feuding with other Democrats.
It was a particularly bad idea to take on Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, widely seen as champion of the middle class and someone who nearly always supports the president’s agenda, as he did in a major speech on trade last week.
Instead of conceding that Sen. Warren and others may have legitimate concerns about the way the legislation is being rushed through Congress, he called their arguments illogical and “made up.” His dismissive tone indicated he’s not interested in trying to persuade potential allies to support his program, wanting them to just fall in line because he’s the president and he knows what’s good for them.
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After six years in the White House, he should know better. Politics is hard work, but it goes with the job. And it usually works better than condescending speeches. By not heeding the concerns of fellow Democrats, he put at risk a program that carries major benefits for the country.
The immediate issue before the Senate was whether a “fast-track” approach to the trade-expansion bill would include protections for labor and penalties for countries that manipulate currency to gain a trade advantage. It also would extend tariff discounts for African and other developing countries. These are Democratic priorities that have already cleared Senate and House committees.
Instead, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, scheduled a vote that ignored all three issues, with the full support of the White House!
The result was a defeat for trade proponents. But it should not be the final word on the issue.
Trade-expansion programs represent a bet that globalization is here to stay and can be turned to the advantage of the American people, who have created the strongest economy in the world and should never fear competition.
It is particularly important for communities like Miami, which stand to benefit directly from greater import and export activity. We are mindful of the disruptive effects of trade in some sectors of the economy, as well. That’s why job-training assistance for workers should be an indispensable part of any trade package.
A report issued by the Congressional Research Service in April suggests that fears of job losses over the first of the expanded trade agreements — NAFTA, which covered North America — were wrong. The results show a net balance favorable to the United States in terms of job creation and high-wage jobs, as well as trade figures. And its success went beyond the purely economic, helping to diminish more than a century of hard feelings between the United States and Mexico.
In the same way, the Trans-Pacific Partnership can improve our relations with Asian nations, a national imperative at a time when China is seeking to assert its influence over this vast region.
It’s time for Mr. Obama to rally Democrats to his side before hard feelings make a deal impossible. Less lecturing and more politicking can get the job done.