Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she opposes the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, marking a significant break with the Obama Administration as she heads into the first Democratic presidential debate.
In an interview with PBS NewsHour, Clinton said that while she is still reviewing the deal, she is "worried" it benefits drug companies and does not address currency manipulation.
"What I know about it as of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it," Clinton said. "I've tried to learn as much as I can about the agreement, but I’m worried."
Clinton's opposition to the deal will come as welcome news to trade unions, who overwhelmingly oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership and fear it could cost millions of American jobs. Despite her status as a frontrunner status in the Democratic primary, her role in negotiating the deal as Secretary of State has hurt her reputation with the AFL-CIO and earned the ire of union rank-and-file.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said last month that Clinton would need to oppose the TPP to earn the whole-hearted support of labor unions. "If she doesn't take a position on TPP, then she's looking for our vote. If she does take a position on TPP, then she's looking for our support," Trumka said.
The trade deal is a central part of the Obama administration's strategy to "pivot" to Asia and would be a major achievement of his presidency if Congress approves it, lowering tariffs and expanding trade within 40% of the world's economy. It would pit Clinton at odds with Vice President Joe Biden if he decides to enter the race.
Clinton's views on the deal are a notable evolution from her past pronouncements. She called the TPP the "gold standard" of trade agreements in 2012 and in her memoir Hard Choices, Clinton said the deal "won’t be perfect" but it "should benefit American businesses and workers."
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley both oppose the trade deal, a stance that is an important part of their appeal with the Democratic base.
Her announcement today won her early criticism from O'Malley, who has often accused Clinton of holding her finger to political winds.
"I was against the Trans Pacific Partnership months and months ago. We were told in NAFTA all sorts of great promises and what we got in return were shuttered factories and empty pockets," he said. "Secretary Clinton can justify her own reversal of opinion on this, but I didn't have one opinion 8 months ago and switch that opinion on the eve of debates."
In explaining her reasoning against the deal, Clinton said she does not believe the deal would "meet the high bar I have set"—a set of standards she laid out early in her campaign including raising wages, growing American jobs, and protecting American national security.
"I've tried to learn as much as I can about the agreement, but I’m worried," Clinton said. "I’m worried about currency manipulation not being part of the agreement. We’ve lost American jobs to the manipulations that countries particularly in Asia have engaged in."
Clinton added in a statement Wednesday that previous trade deals had come up short, a statement that gibes with the views of both unions and her opponents in the Democratic primary who argue previous deals—the North American Free Trade Agreement, passed under President Bill Clinton, and Central American Free Trade Agreement—have cost millions of American jobs.
"We’ve seen that even a strong deal can fall short on delivering the promised benefits. So I don’t believe we can afford to keep giving new agreements the benefit of the doubt," Clinton said. "The risks are too high that, despite our best efforts, they will end up doing more harm than good for hard-working American families whose paychecks have barely budged in years."
Clinton's views put her in opposition to the White House, which has worked tirelessly to secure the deal and will struggle to push it through Congress with the help of pro-trade Republicans. It also positions her well with Democratic voters and could sway influential unions to lend their support.
Support for Clinton among unions has been mixed over the last several months. Though she has won endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, many rank-and-file members of unions have opposed endorsing her. The New York Times reported that the International Association of Firefighters, an influential union, has backed away from endorsing Clinton.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, a federation of unions that represents 12.5 million Americans, released a statement praising Clinton's stance on the trade agreement.
“America’s working people are very pleased that Senator Clinton is opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership," said Trumka. "Her decision is a critical turning point, and will be invaluable in our effort to defeat TPP."
With reporting by Zeke Miller