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Hillary Clinton moves (slightly) left on trade

Clinton remains uncommitted to the fundamental question of whether Obama should have fast-track authority.

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Hillary Clinton said in an interview Thursday here that she would vote against a version of the fast-track trade bill currently before the Senate, but still declined to take a stand on different version of the bill more likely to emerge from Congress.

Her comments moved her somewhat to the left on trade but Clinton remains uncommitted to the fundamental question of whether President Obama should be granted fast-track authority.

In an interview following Clinton's speech to a group of Latino government officials here, KNPB host John Ralston asked Clinton if she would vote for fast track, were she in the Senate today. 

RELATED: House win revives Obama's Pacific trade pact

As it happens, the fast track bill before the Senate today does not include a Democratic-backed addendum known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, which provides compensation and training to workers adversely affected by increased global trade.

Clinton said she would vote against that bill, citing the lack of the worker assistance provision. “Right now I’m focused on making sure we get trade adjustment assistance and I certainly would not vote for it unless I were absolutely confident we would get trade adjustment assistance,” Clinton told Ralston.

However, she did not say whether she would support fast track authority if it was re-coupled with the assistance bill. “It’s a process vote and I don’t want to say it’s the same as [the Trans Pacific Partnership],” she said

President Obama wants Congress to give him fast track authority in order to approve the TPP, a massive trade deal with a dozen Pacific-Rim countries. Clinton helped negotiate that treaty as secretary of state and called it the “gold standard” free trade deals, but has since distanced herself from it in the face of vehement liberal opposition.

Clinton has for months said she will wait to take a stand on TPP until the final deal is negotiated and made public, likely later this summer, and she’s declined to take a position on fast track, which dismisses as a “process issue.”

Last week, House Democrats voted en masse against the trade assistance provision -- even though they support its substance -- as a means of poisoning the entire trade process. In response, Republican leaders in the Senate this week stripped out the assistance measure to secure more Republican votes and pass it that way. That is the version of the bill Clinton said she would oppose.

However, few expect Congress to be able to actually pass that version, and it’s unclear if President Obama would sign it. If fast track is going to be signed in to law, it’s far more likely that it will carry the trade assistance provision with it. Clinton did not take a position on a version of the bill that would include both. Therefore, Clinton’s new position is somewhat academic.

Still, Murshed Zaheed of the liberal group CREDO Action, which has been mobilizing opposition to the deal, called Clinton’s comments “helpful,” but not enough.

“For her opposition to mean something, she should be engage her supporters to advocate their senators to oppose this now. This weekend. Before Monday,” said, “This is noteworthy that this happened after the vote in the House, but she still has time to do something meaningful.”

“She wouldn’t be taking this position if she weren’t facing such pressure from the left,” he added.