President Obama said Thursday that the rift between himself and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) over a contentious trade deal is a matter of policy differences and not a personal dispute. Members of Obama’s own party have criticized him for calling out Warren by name over a trade deal the president favors.
“You know, the issue with respect to myself and Elizabeth has never been personal,” Obama said at Camp David, where he met earlier with Gulf leaders to discuss Middle East security. “I think it’s fun for, you know, the press to see if we can poke around at it when you see two close allies who have a disagreement on a policy issue. But there are a whole bunch of – some of my best friends in the Senate, as well as in the House, some of my earliest supporters who disagree with me on this.”
While pushing for so-called “fast-track” authorization of a trade deal he still negotiating with 11 South American and Pacific Rim countries, dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the president has engaged in a war of words with the progressive wing of his party over trade policy. The Senate on Thursday cleared a procedural vote to consider the fast-track authority, which is traditionally necessary for presidents to get an up-or-down vote on ambitious trade packages. Just two days earlier, the Senate rejected the measure. Nine pro-trade senators were summoned to the White House following the vote and emerged with a deal to move forward. In return for the progress, the pro-trade Democrats won votes on two trade-related measures Thursday, including one opposed by the Obama White House.
The president has faced criticism from some members of his party over the trade deal and his widening rift with Warren, who fiercely opposes the trade bill. Obama has called Warren “absolutely wrong” on the issue, telling Yahoo! News that the Massachusetts senator is “a politician like everybody else.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Tuesday after the Senate first rejected the procedural vote that Obama has been “disrespectful” to Warren. “I think the president has made this more personal than he needed to.”
Thursday’s meeting with Gulf leaders also gave Obama a chance to try to sell the framework deal the U.S. reached with Iran to limit that nation’s nuclear program. Gulf leaders are worried that if the nuclear deal is finalized and crippling sanctions are lifted, an emboldened Iran will cause further instability in the region.
“The discussions we had today were candid,” Obama said in an earlier statement addressing those concerns. “They were extensive. We discussed not only the Iranian nuclear deal and the potential for us to ensure that Iran is not obtaining a nuclear weapon and triggering a nuclear arms race in the region, but we also discussed our concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and pledged cooperation around how we can address those in a cooperative fashion, even as we hope that we can achieve the kind of peace and good neighborliness with Iran that I think so many of the countries here seek.”
Shortly before Obama spoke, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill requiring congressional review of any deal the U.S. strikes with Iran. The Senate passed the measure last week in a 98-1 vote. The White House has said it supports the measure.
Turning to domestic issues, Obama expressed condolences to the families of those killed in an Amtrak train derailment earlier this week near Philadelphia that left eight people dead and about 200 injured. Obama also thanked the first responders and passengers whom the president said “made heroic efforts to get fellow passengers to safety.”
Obama stressed that the U.S. needs to invest more heavily in infrastructure. “And not just when something bad happens, like a bridge collapse or a train derailment, but all the time. That’s what great nations do.” A day earlier, not even 24 hours after the devastating Amtrak crash, House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee voted to cut funding for Amtrak.
Alex Seitz-Wald contributed reporting.