Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush picked a fight with Hillary Clinton over trade on Wednesday with a blog post accusing her of a “politically motivated flip flop” on White House-backed trade legislation in order to satisfy progressive Democrats.
“I haven’t changed in my view even though Hillary Clinton has,” Bush wrote in a short op-ed published on Medium. “It is time to move forward as even recent Democratic presidents have recognized — and Sec. Clinton shouldn’t stand in the way for political gain.”
The Obama administration is currently negotiating the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping proposed trade deal with a dozen Pacific Rim nations, and there’s an ongoing related fight in Washington over whether to grant the president authority to fast track its Congressional review process.
Clinton strongly encouraged the negotiations as Obama’s secretary of state, but has changed her tone on the issue since reentering politics as a presidential candidate.
“This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field,” Clinton said in a November 2012 speech in Australia that Bush quoted in his piece. “And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world's total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.
More recently, she talked up a possible deal in her 2014 memoirs Hard Choices. “It’s safe to say that TPP won’t be perfect — no deal negotiated among a dozen countries ever will be — but its high standards, if implemented and enforced, should benefit American businesses and workers,” Clinton wrote.
Last week, however, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill sounded a more cautious note in describing the candidate’s position on trade.
“Hillary Clinton believes that any new trade measure has to pass two tests: First, it should put us in a position to protect American workers, raise wages and create more good jobs at home. Second, it must also strengthen our national security,” Merrill said. “We should be willing to walk away from any outcome that falls short of these tests.”
Merrill added that Clinton would look to a deal to crack down on “currency manipulation,” an issue that Obama administration officials are concerned could create new problems for the United States and potentially kill a deal.
Bush called Merrill’s statement “conveniently timed” to Clinton’s campaign ramp-up.
“It seems Secretary Clinton thinks we have a short memory,” he wrote.
Bush added TPP would boost the economy at home and “strengthen our ties to our allies throughout the Pacific region, including our close allies and partners in Australia, Mexico and Japan.”
The trade fight muddies conventional partisan lines like few other campaign issues. Many Democrats and labor unions are wary of free trade deals and complain that the TPP will encourage labor abuses and cause American jobs to move overseas. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is undeclared but positioning himself to run to Clinton’s left in a Democratic primary, has gone on offense in recent days against TPP, putting pressure on Clinton to follow suit.
On the other side, Republican leaders in the House and Senate favor a deal and have publicly encouraged Obama’s negotiations even though some rank-and-file members are skeptical.
“I know there is political risk in supporting free trade,” Bush wrote on Wednesday. “TPP is President Obama’s biggest trade initiative. I know some political constituencies in my own political party don’t favor it. But I agree with what Hillary Clinton said about TPP in 2012: This is a great deal for America.”
Clinton's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Bush's post.