TIME global trade

Liberals Vow to Punish Democrats for Trade Vote

Demonstrators protest against the legislation to give President Barack Obama fast-track authority to advance trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a protest march on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 21, 2015.
SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images Demonstrators protest against the legislation to give President Barack Obama fast-track authority to advance trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a protest march on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 21, 2015.

Democrats who voted Thursday afternoon in favor of a controversial trade bill, known as “fast track,” will feel the wrath of some liberal groups.

The bill, known as the Trade Promotion Authority, passed 218-208, with 28 Democrats siding with President Obama and a strong, if unlikely, majority of Republicans. But liberal groups warned they would face a backlash from Democratic voters.

Democrats who allowed the passage of [the fast track] … should know that we will not lift a finger or raise a penny to protect you when you’re attacked in 2016, we will encourage our progressive allies to join us in leaving you to rot,” said Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America, “and we will actively search for opportunities to primary you with a real Democrat,”

“Those primaries could happen next year or they could happen in election cycles to come, but, make no mistake, we will make certain that your vote to fast track the destruction of American jobs will be remembered and will haunt you for years to come,” he added. Democracy for America oversees a grassroots membership of 10.1 million.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, a national environmental organization, said that he was “profoundly disappointed” with the Democratic leadership. “Sadly, we have come to expect Republicans to sell out the environment for the pursuit of corporate profits,” he said. “But we expect more regard for environmental protection and respect for working families from President Obama and the Democrats who supported this bill.”

The Trade Promotion Authority gives Obama the legal power to negotiate, and then pass to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote, all future free trade deals. That includes the controversial and imminent Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would knit together 12 Pacific Rim nations and 40% of the world’s GDP. Liberals, labor activists and environmentalists have furiously lobbied Democratic politicians in recent months to vote against the fast track on the grounds that it “greases the skids” for the TPP, which they argue will lead to job losses in the U.S., and a degradation of workers’ rights and environmental protections abroad.

But many major liberal heavyweights, including the labor unions, have been unwilling to make Democratic votes on the fast track bill a litmus test. AFL-CIO, for example, said this week that its 2016 endorsements will “not hinge” on how candidates voted on trade.

Stephanie Taylor, the co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee, stopped short of making an ultimatum Thursday, asking instead that Democratic leaders lobby the Senate to vote no on the bill. “Voters need to see that Democratic Party leaders, including Hillary Clinton, are willing to strongly fight corporate interests that seek to hurt workers and everyday families,” she said Thursday. “All presidential candidates should urge the Senate to vote no on fast track.”

Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, has yet to weigh in on whether she supports either fast track or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In comments last weekend, she urged the White House to work with Congressional Democrats to strengthen support for American workers—a comment that broke from a strongly pro-trade position in the past.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that the bill will pass the Senate.

TIME Opinion

Why History Urges Caution on Proposed Trade Deal

Photomechanical print of the Chicago Special, Burlington Route, a Class I railroad that operated in the Midwestern United States. Commonly referred to as the Burlington or Q. Photographed by William Henry Jackson ( 1843-1942). Dated 1900.
Universal History Archive/Getty Images Photomechanical print of the Chicago Special, Burlington Route, a Class I railroad that operated in the Midwestern United States. Dated 1900.

When it comes to globalization, the 19th century has a lot to teach the 21st

Many 21st-century Americans like to believe that globalization—like sex, profanity, and partisan media—is an invention of the modern era.

But of course it is not.

Nevermind NAFTA. Consider, instead, the case of a 16th-century enslaved African man, forcibly transported to the Caribbean to grow South Asian sugarcane for English consumers. Or the story of an early-modern South American indigenous person, put to work in the Bolivian silver mines, so fat cats in Europe could buy Chinese porcelain and Indian Ocean spices.

And yet this long history of globalization is rarely invoked in contemporary debates over globalization—most recently in the wrangling between Congress and President Obama over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal (currently stuck in legislative limbo until at least late July, as President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner search for a path forward). Instead, pundits focus on the abstract metrics that tend to dominate discussions of today’s political economy. Proponents argue, for instance, that TPP and other trade deals will boost economic efficiency and lead to cost savings for consumers by removing barriers to trade. Opponents, on the other hand, contend that it will kill jobs and erode both labor and consumer protections. (They also argue that it’s an offense against democratic transparency—but that’s another story.)

Lost in conversations surrounding globalization, however, is the kind of concrete, human-scale perspective that history can provide: a perspective that would seem to support a course of caution on TPP, lest we overtax the human capacity for wrenching social and economic change. Especially relevant, in this instance, is the story of an earlier flashpoint in the history of globalization: a moment, spanning the early 19th century, when dramatic shifts in transportation technology, investment, and infrastructure put a growing number of backwoods Americans into contact with wider, increasingly-global markets.

These developments had their advantages. The construction of the Erie Canal—linking the Hudson River with the Great Lakes—meant that farmers as far west as Wisconsin now had easy access to New York’s networks of goods and buyers. An advantageously placed railroad put two-bit towns, denied the blessings of a navigable river, in touch with a wider world of people and things. Steamboats, improved oceangoing vessels, and the telegraph radically reduced the time and cost associated with both transportation and communication.

The result was a broadening of Americans’ economic horizons. For some, like a hardscrabble Illinoisan named Abraham Lincoln, these developments were a godsend. Markets and infrastructure, meant education and opportunity for the young Lincoln—an antidote to the material privation of his rural childhood and an escape from the small, narrow life that his log-cabin upbringing seemed to offer. Not surprisingly, these early experiences made him a life-long advocate of what contemporaries called ‘internal improvements’: public investments in infrastructure and technology designed to integrate American markets with one another and with the wider world.

Of course, these early benefits of globalization also came at a steep cost. The ability of Wisconsin farmers to sell grain in Europe and beyond meant they were now vulnerable to distant, dangerous and unpredictable oscillations in global cereal markets. And new urban credit instruments—carried to rural areas on the same canals, railroads and steamboats that brought clocks, clothing and other desirable consumer goods—not only expanded possibilities for gain but for failure as well.

Indeed, for every cagey backwoods entrepreneur who made a fortune from these new possibilities—using bank loans to successfully speculate in Western lands or purchase new fields on which to grow grain for the lucrative export trade—one or more of his neighbors likely failed. Financial neophytes of the first order, some omitted to read the fine print of their loans, and soon found themselves buried under mountains of interests. Others, meanwhile, simply had poor timing. When financial disaster struck—as it did in 1819, 1837, and again in 1857—those with outstanding debt found the international markets on which they increasingly depended callously slack. Left without the cash flow to meet their credit obligations, their creditors—unsurprisingly—were quick to pounce.

Beset by the specters of foreclosure and dispossession (sound familiar?), many of the casualties in this early round of globalization took flight for the cold comfort or urban wage labor. In this process, too, there would be winners and losers: those who preferred urban energy to rural somnolence, commercial and manufacturing work to backbreaking agricultural toil.

For nearly all who went through this process of dispossession and migration, it would be a wrenching one: a profound shift in the pace and content of their work, in the rhythms of their lives, in their social and cultural horizons, in their identity and sense of self. Those who experienced it, from rural Midwestern families and Irish potato farmers to German peasants and countless others, would never forget the transformation they underwent.

These changes, one might argue, were inevitable. And, in the aggregate, they were positive. The march of globalization has, overall, produced a more prosperous and cosmopolitan planet, releasing large swaths of humanity from the grip of parochialism and privation in the process. Those who argue otherwise have engaged in a rather selective reading of the human past.

But, just because the aggregate outcome of social and economic change was positive, doesn’t mean that it was easy for the people who experienced it. Indeed, the experience of economic modernization was so unsettling for some Americans, that many 19th-century politicians, including the otherwise reprehensible Andrew Jackson, struggled to slow—if not halt—the version of globalization that was shaking their constituents’ world. Vilifying federal support for everything from banking to infrastructure, these politicians sought to preserve what they saw as a traditional way of life for as long as possible.

Today, many Americans likely struggle to understand what these politicians were all about. Who wouldn’t want a functional national banking system or decent roads, they might ask. But, in many respects, the political questions these early American politicians were navigating were remarkably similar to the ones at the heart of the TPP debate: how to embrace the benefits of social and economic change, while making those changes manageable in human terms. How to have a dynamic economy without overtaxing individuals’ capacity for change.

Then as now, we would do well to err on the side of caution: to welcome aspects of globalization without providing it undue encouragement. Change will come—with all its promises and pitfalls—regardless of what Congress and the President decide on TPP. But our elected officials needn’t make that process more jarring by removing some of the last remaining brakes on globalization.

The Long ViewHistorians explain how the past informs the present

Sean Trainor has a Ph.D. in History & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Penn State University. He blogs at seantrainor.org.

TIME faith

Labor Movement Hopes to Get a Bump From Pope Francis Visit

Cardinal Donald Wuerl speaks at an AFL-CIO event in Washington on June 15, 2015.
Elizabeth Dias—TIME Cardinal Donald Wuerl speaks at an AFL-CIO event in Washington on June 15, 2015.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl spoke in front of a sparkling mosaic on Monday morning, and he was not in a church. The backdrop was not even Biblical, at least not technically. Instead the mosaic was a wall-sized portrait honoring workers at the AFL-CIO headquarters, where Wuerl, Catholic archbishop of Washington, was speaking alongside the labor organization’s president, Richard Trumka. Together, the two men championed care for workers.

Wuerl and Trumka are less odd couple than one might think. Both are Catholic, both are in “exile from western Pennsylvania,” as Trumka put it, and both make it a priority to advocate for workers who are poor and immigrants. Both are also hoping that Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S. in September will be an opportunity to build momentum toward around supporting workers and immigrants. “Just the fact that he is coming here, not even that he has arrived yet, has brought renewed hope to the people all through the labor movement,” Trumka said later at a small press conference about the event. “He is coming here in a moment of renewal,” Wuerl added. “His focus will be to energize the faithful and through that, give new hope to the whole community.”

Catholic support for labor is far from new—it goes back decades—but Monday’s event marked a new moment for both the labor movement and the Catholic Church in the U.S. The event was sponsored by both the Catholic University of America, the national university of the Catholic Church in the U.S., and the AFL-CIO, which represents more than 50 unions and 12.5 million workers. The conference, titled, “Erroneous Autonomy: A Conversation on Solidarity and Faith,” was the first time in recent years that a lineup of high-profile Catholic leaders, featuring a Cardinal, spoke at the AFL-CIO. Intentional conversation between the two groups picked up last year when the CUA hosted a similar event on the Catholic case against libertarianism and Trumka introduced Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, another of Pope Francis’ top advisors.

This year the theme was the Catholic concept of “solidarity,” the idea that humanity is called to stand together across divisions and to advance social justice. Pope Francis, Wuerl noted, often speaks of solidarity as a way to counter what he calls the “globalization of indifference” and a “throwaway culture.” Heavy hitters from both the Catholic and labor fields filled the room, including Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, Reverend Clete Kiley of CUA, and a dozen other bishops and priests. Former AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, the son of Irish Catholic immigrants and a longtime Catholic labor champion, sat in the front row. It was hard to tell whose standing ovation came faster, Trumka’s or Wuerl’s.

Monday’s event stressed a shared theological and moral foundation for protecting and supporting laborers, and Wuerl’s and Trumka’s language was at times interchangeable. “That phrase—raising wages—expresses a moral vision, because when we fight for a living wage, for earned sick days and paid family leave, we are not just seeking economic gains,” Trumka said. “We are seeking the material foundations of a good life that makes it possible for us to care for each other, for families to raise children and care for the elderly and for us to be part of the faith life of our community.”

“We are not bystanders,” Wuerl said, referring twice to Trumka as “our president.” “We are supposed to be active agents in the transformation of this society.”

It is another sign that the labor movement sees Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. as an opportunity to advance its message. Last week, the grassroots faith organization PICO and the Service Employees International Union visited the Vatican to lobby the Holy See to address income inequality, race relations, and immigration reform when he visits in September. Some Catholic groups, including the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the NETWORK Lobby, also pushed for Congress earlier this year to oppose fast-track trade promotion authority, citing concerns that it would promote corporate power instead at the expense of protecting individuals.

Specific political steps going forward remain open-ended—neither Wuerl nor Trumka elaborated on details of a specific partnership or programming. Instead, their message is to create a new tone that can guide new political realities. “We have to see how the issue of human solidarity impacts immigration, labor—how it impacts other moral issues in terms of how we look at the death penalty, the defense of human life for the unborn, or the elderly,” Cupich told TIME during a session break. “So this is just one other way in which in fits in to our whole understanding of what human solidarity is about, which the Holy Father is doing.”

That baseline conversation is also important as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops revises key documents about citizenship formation. “We’re going to be considering all of these issues as we issue a new version of our ‘Faithful Citizenship’ document on political responsibility,” Cupich says. “So my hope would be that I would be able—and the other bishops who are here—to take from what we learned here today and give consideration to how the importance of organized labor and what it tries to achieve.”

Labor and faith groups are working together before Pope Francis’ trip to raise awareness of issues such as the environment, civil rights, immigration reform and inequality, says AFL-CIO press secretary Gonzalo Salvador. “There are plans of doing polls on attitudes toward economic and moral issues, as well as possible summits and roundtable discussions on these issues,” he says.

The AFL-CIO is awaiting that moment with open arms. “The American labor movement is at the disposal of the Pope,” Trumka said. “We will do anything that he needs to be done to make his visit a total success.”

TIME global trade

White House Argues Trade Deal Just Hit ‘Snafu’

President Barack Obama President Obama departs from a meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images President Barack Obama President Obama departs from a meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC.

The White House cast an embarrassing setback on a trade deal as little more than a “procedural snafu” Friday afternoon.

After a last-minute revolt by House Democrats, a carefully planned set of votes to give President Obama the authority to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership and help any American workers harmed by it failed to play out as the White House had hoped.

That left the trade deal in an uncomfortable limbo. The measure to give Obama trade authority narrowly passed with the support of Republicans, but it cannot go to the White House since Democrats withheld their support on the separate measure.

“Another procedural snafu has emerged,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters after the votes Friday afternoon.

He argued that the votes showed a “bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives” that backs Obama on the trade effort, noting that 28 Democrats voted for the trade powers.

And he said that Obama would not stop aggressively courting Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to support the deal. The House will meet again on Monday and could make another attempt to approve both parts of the trade deal early next week.

“The President is determined, as was evident in visit to to Capitol Hill this morning, to build a bipartisan majority to make sure that we’re living up to our commitment as Democrats to fight for the middle class,” Earnest said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed with the White House’s assessment, telling reporters on Friday afternoon that the House could vote again and salvage the deal.

“We’re not done with this yet,” he said.

In a statement Friday afternoon, President Obama framed the day’s votes in a positive way, thanking a “bipartisan group of Representatives” for coming together “on behalf of America’s workers, our businesses, and our economy.”

Obama also urged the Republican-led House to pass the measure that would provide aid to American workers that Democrats scuttled in an effort to derail the entire deal. Inaction on trade adjustment authority, Obama said, would be felt by “about 100,000 workers and their communities annually if those Members of Congress don’t reconsider.”

“I urge the House of Representatives to pass TAA as soon as possible, so I can sign them both, and give our workers and businesses even more wind at their backs to do what they do best: imagine, invent, build, and sell goods Made in America to the rest of the world,” Obama said.

TIME global trade

Why Democrats Overcame In-Fighting on Trade

President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2015.
Susan Walsh—AP President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2015.

President Obama’s trade agenda overcame a setback Wednesday in the Senate, showing a blocked vote 24 hours earlier was more of a negotiating strategy by centrist Democrats than a death-blow to the prospects for a trans-Pacific trade deal.

Given the stakes, that’s not entirely surprising: the single biggest factor in how well most human beings live in 20 years will be the economic balance of power between China and the U.S. Figuring out how best to set that balance to America’s advantage is what the Senate debate is all about.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is being negotiated in secret and few know what is actually in it. But the general purpose is to get 12 countries in Asia and the Americas, which together account for 40% of the world’s production of goods and services, to agree to a broad set of rules for trade and business. Supporters say standardizing those rules would make it easier for Americans to sell things abroad and cheaper to buy things here.

At the same time, China, India and other countries that aren’t part of the TPP talks are trying to cut their own deals to give their companies and consumers an edge. Whoever does it best gets the most benefits, the argument goes.

Opponents of the deal say these so-called “efficient markets” are just jargon for cutting corners on labor, environmental and human rights standards. Competing with China to cut trade deals ends up being a race to the bottom, they say. Instead, they argue that Americans would do better if the Obama Administration set high standards even if that made it harder to compete with other countries.

The problem with that argument is that as China grows ever-more powerful, the world is increasingly happy to ignore high American standards in favor of lower Chinese ones. China’s economy currently produces around $9.24 trillion of goods and services every year; the U.S. weighs in at around $16.7 trillion. Depending on growth rates and inflation, China will likely have the largest economy in the world in a few years and by 2035 it could be way ahead.

That translates into power and influence. Already American allies and enemies alike have shown they will side with China when there is cash at stake. In March, for example, the UK, France, Germany and Italy all defied the U.S. to join a Chinese led development bank.

So how do you set standards and protect American workers while making it easier and cheaper for them to prosper? The centrist bloc of Democrats that stymied Obama yesterday say they want to take a middle path, offering other countries the opportunity to have cheaper trade with the U.S. with somewhat higher standards. The centrists say they’ll vote to pass “fast track” authority if the U.S. also punishes certain kinds of corner-cutting that give countries an unfair advantage in the international markets, such as currency manipulation, lax labor standards and other bad behavior.

Ideologically, that’s not very different from Obama’s position. Which explains why the jubilation on the left after yesterday’s vote was premature. Centrist Democrats reportedly met with the White House to discuss a compromise on tougher standards that would allow “fast track” authority to move ahead. By mid-afternoon Wednesday, a deal had been struck.

Whether that will ultimately keep America competitive with the fast-growing China is another question.

TIME Congress

Obama Moves Closer to Inking Pacific Trade Deal

US President Barack Obama speaks about trade policy at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, May 8, 2015 .
Brendan Smialowski—Getty Images US President Barack Obama speaks about trade policy at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, May 8, 2015 .

President Obama may move closer to a career-defining Pacific Rim trade deal Tuesday that could permanently alter the balance of power between the White House and Congress on trade issues.

The Senate is expected to approve a bill to give the president “fast track” authority to make trade deals, reducing Congress’ role to approving or rejecting the entire deal. Members of Congress would not be allowed to filibuster a vote on a trade pact, add amendments, delete parts or otherwise tweak the final version of a trade deal.

If it passes, the bill would grease the skids for Obama to finish the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an unprecedentedly massive trade pact binding the U.S. and eleven other countries, including Japan, Australia and Chile, and governing 40% of the world’s GDP.

Most trade experts agree that if the fast track bill passes, it all but guarantees that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will too.

Supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership say getting the fast track bill passed is crucial since, without it, Congress could muddle up a document that has been delicately wrought in private negotiations for nearly a decade.

But critics of the deal, which includes an unlikely coalition of Tea Party Republicans and liberal Democrats, argue that passing the fast-track bill is akin to signing a blank check.

Conservative critics worry that the fast-track hands undue power to a president they already don’t trust. In an impassioned plea to supporters Sunday, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions wrote that the fast-track bill marks a “consolidation of power in the executive branch,” by eliminating “Congress’ ability to amend or debate trade implementing legislation and guarantees an up-or-down vote on a far-reaching international agreement before that agreement has received any public review.”

Liberal Democrats, for their part, argue that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be bad for working class Americans by shipping more decent jobs overseas. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will strip safeguards on the financial industry and establish a shadowy international legal system, wherein powerful corporates can sue countries through private tribunals. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has promised to filibuster it if it comes to that.

Meanwhile, Obama has launched an aggressive and unusually personal lobbying campaign to pass both the fast-track bill and the final trade deal. In past months, he has met with members of Congress in the West Wing, promised allies future political support, and publicly attacked members of his own party who have been critical of the deal.

On Saturday, Obama called his one-time top ally, Warren, “absolutely wrong” in her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else,” he said in an interview with Yahoo News on Saturday. “And you know, she’s got a voice that she wants to get out there. And I understand that. And on most issues, she and I deeply agree. On this one, though, her arguments don’t stand the test of fact and scrutiny.”

Warren responded Monday by arguing that Obama should release the full text of the agreement now in order to clear the air.

The Senate is expected to pass the fast-track bill tomorrow by a hair, although it’s hardly a slam dunk. The House, which has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill, is likely to put up more of a fight. The final language of the Trans-Pacific Partnership itself will be hammered out by negotiators in Guam this week and in the Philippines later this month.

TIME White House

Elizabeth Warren Shoots Back at Obama as Trade Deal Feud Escalates

Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Jose Luis Magana—AP Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Senator says President Obama "should declassify the text" of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Elizabeth Warren says President Barack Obama should reveal the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, shooting back at the President after he said over the weekend that the Massachusetts senator was “absolutely wrong” about the controversial trade deal.

President Obama has asked Congress to vote on whether to “fast track” the trade deal without revealing its contents. Obama says the deal, which involves 12 nations, will increase trade and bolster standards for Asian workers. But he has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats for a lack of transparency on the details of the agreement.

“If the president is so confident it’s a good deal, he should declassify the text and let people see it before asking Congress to tie its hands on fixing it,” Sen. Warren said in an interview with the Washington Post published Monday.

At the heart of the dispute between Warren and the President is the TPP agreement. The Senate will vote this week on whether to grant Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate the agreement, which could impact 40 percent of U.S. trade. Congress can still vote the deal down once he presents it, but with “fast track” won’t be able to amend it.

Warren has argued that the deal will weaken regulations and undermine the Dodd Frank financial reforms. “I understand that we want to be a nation that trades, that trade creates many benefits for us,” said Warren. “But only if done on terms that strengthen the American economy and American worker.”


TIME Congress

Can Elizabeth Warren Kill President Obama’s Trade Deal?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren listens to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testify, at a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on "Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress" on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 24, 2015.
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters Sen. Elizabeth Warren listens to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testify, at a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on "Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress" on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 24, 2015.

Elizabeth Warren, the famously fiery populist senator from Massachusetts, has a reputation for having a bit of a reverse-Midas touch, when she wants to: if she decides she is against something, it often turns to smoke.

The latest subject of her withering glare? In a letter to supporters Thursday afternoon, Warren decried a sub-chapter in the Obama administration’s proposed trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that would allow companies to sue foreign countries through an extra-judicial tribunal made up of three for-profit arbitrators.

If that sounds a little hard-to-follow, that’s because it is. But Warren’s street cred with liberals is strong enough that they tend to take her lead even when the argument can’t be summed up in a simple bumper sticker slogan.

Provisions for these tribunals — known as an investor-state dispute system, or ISDS — have appeared in more than 3,000 trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, since the 1950s, according to Jeff Zients, the director of the National Economic Council.

But Warren argues that it’s different this time around. For one, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is enormous. It includes the U.S. and 11 other countries, including Japan, Australia and Chile, oversees a whopping 40% of the world’s total annual GDP, and it’s irreversible: once we’re in it, there’s no getting out.

And for another, she claims that ISDS isn’t what it used to be. Two decades ago, when NAFTA was ratified, multi-national corporations were smaller and less powerful than they are today. Her case is that as those interests have gotten bigger and bigger, they’ve gotten more litigious: in the four decades from 1959 to 2002, there were fewer than 100 ISDS cases world wide. Between 2010 and 2013 alone, there were more than 200.

“Recent cases include a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this winter.

In February, John Oliver, the Comedy Central comedian and host of Last Week Tonight who also holds sway with liberals, mocked an effort by the tobacco company, Philip Morris, to use ISDS to reverse public health regulations in Uruguay’s designed to reduce the smoking rate.

President Obama, backed by most Republicans, a majority of Democrats, and the powerful corporate interest groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, says Warren is just plain wrong. (He’ll be at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon on Friday explaining why the TPP is great.) ISDS is necessary, the deal’s backers argue, to ensure the corporations feel comfortable making direct foreign investments in other countries — particularly those with less well developed court systems.

But policy arguments aside for a moment, will the famous Warren touch work this time around?

In the past, Warren has been successful in taking down very narrow targets. Last fall, she set her sights on Antonio Weiss, the White House’s nominee for Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance, and by January, he’d bowed out. Before that, Warren helped doom Obama’s plan to nominate former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to head the Federal Reserve.

But Warren’s also had some off-days. She failed, for example, in her effort last December to quash Congress’s unwieldy continuing resolution and omnibus bill — nicknamed the “Cromnibus” — which included provisions that unwound financial regulations.

And the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for better or worse, may have more in common with the latter than the former. Like the Cromnibus, the TPP is huge, unwieldy, and also includes provisions that many Democrats will like.

Plus, there are technical difficulties. If Congress passes what’s known as the “fast-track” bill next week — it’s unclear if they currently have the votes they need — there won’t be any room for debate about which parts to keep, rewrite, amend or scrap. The fast-track bill binds Congress into an up or down vote on the final version of the trade deal.

And if it comes down to a simple “yes” or “no,” Warren’s famous touch, however powerful, might not be enough.

TIME White House

Why Obama’s Visit to Nike Bothers Liberals

President Barack Obama arrives at the Oregon Air National Guard Base ahead of a fundraiswer at Nike, in Portland on May 7, 2015.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama arrives at the Oregon Air National Guard Base ahead of a fundraiswer at Nike, in Portland on May 7, 2015.

If there’s one thing the liberal, activist base can agree on, it’s that they hate President Obama’s proposed trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They argue that it would transfer hundreds of thousands of decent American jobs to developing countries, like Vietnam, where workers, laboring under poor conditions, make pennies an hour.

And if there’s a second thing that liberal can agree on, it’s that the multinational sports outfitter, Nike, which conducts virtually all of its manufacturing in Asia and Mexico, is perhaps the world’s most powerful symbol, fairly or not, of precisely this kind of exploitation of cheap overseas labor, to the detriment of the American worker.

So Obama’s decision to visit Nike to promote the trade deal Thursday has liberals completely baffled.

“It’s crazy,” said Neil Sroka, the communications director of Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy group. “It would almost be funny on its face, if it weren’t such a sad indication of how out of touch the White House is on this issue with the lived experience of the American people.”

T.J. Helmstetter of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee added that “President Obama’s position on the TPP is misguided, as evidenced by his visit to Nike, which pays workers overseas so little they can’t afford to buy the shoes they’re making.”

Campaign for America’s Future, another liberal group opposed to the trade deal, is organizing a protest outside of Nike’s headquarters on Friday.

The White House, for its part, is making the case that visiting Nike — famous precisely because of its embrace of globalization — makes perfect sense. The president is expected to argue that the trade deal will reduce prices for American consumers by cutting tariffs on things like imported Nike sportswear.

“By allowing our trading partners to produce the goods in which they are relatively more efficient, the United States can import at lower prices than would prevail if we were to use our scarce resources to produce the goods ourselves,” economic advisers at the White House wrote in a report this month.

The trade deal, the advisers explained, would set new, higher standards for labor conditions, environmental protections and copyright. In exchange, lower tariffs at the U.S. border would make it easier to import Asian-made products — including Nike clothing and shoes. The U.S. imported $987.41 billion in goods and services from the Asia-Pacific region in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

It’s an argument that is no doubt music to the ears of the corporate leadership at Nike, where 56% of the company’s revenue comes from outside Mexico, the United States and Canada, according to the company’s filings.

But labor groups, environmentalists, liberals, and some Tea Party Republicans say that argument doesn’t take into account the reality of average Americans.

“The argument doesn’t make any sense for struggling workers and their families,” said Sroka. “If you can’t get a job because companies like Nike are shipping their jobs to Vietnam where they’re can pay workers less, then it matters very little to you that your shoes are going to be two bucks less.”

Dave Johnson, a senior fellow at the progressive Campaign For America’s Future, made a more populist argument. “Phil Knight, head of Nike, is now worth $23 billion because America’s trade policies encourage companies like Nike to create and move jobs outside of the U.S.,” he wrote. “The 23rd-richest American is one more symbol of the kind of inequality that results from outsourcing enabled and encouraged by these trade policies. Workers here lose (or never get) jobs; workers there are paid squat; a few people become vastly, unimaginably wealthy.”

For the last two decades, Nike has come under consistent fire from civil rights and anti-globalization groups for operating sweatshops that exploit weak labor laws and employ children. As recently as last year, the company was criticized for abusing workers in Indonesia and underpaying workers in China.

Nike says it now operates all its factories above board. “Nike fully supports the inclusion of strong labor provisions” in trade deals, the company said in a statement. “We’ve made significant improvements and driven positive change for workers in contract factories that make Nike product.”

If the TPP is approved it will include 12 nations, including Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Chile, and oversee 40% of the world’s total GDP. Obama’s trip this Friday comes just as Congress is debating the passage of “fast track” legislation, which would give Congress only an up-or-down vote on the trade deal, with no ability to tinker with the details.

Obama and his allies on trade, which include Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and the vast majority of the Republican establishment, have argued that “fast track” legislation is necessary to smooth the way for the TPP. Congress is expected to vote on the fast track next week.

TIME trade

Meet the Critics of President Obama’s Trade Deal

Barack Obama speaks at a ceremony at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va. on April 24, 2015.
Kevin Dietsch—dpa/Corbis Barack Obama speaks at a ceremony at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va. on April 24, 2015.

Republicans in Congress are poised to give President Obama broad powers to cement a legacy-defining free trade deal with Pacific countries.

Backed by major conservative and business groups, bills to grant the president fast-track authority passed through Republican-led House and Senate committees last week with enough Senate Democratic support for eventual passage, unless the bill changes dramatically on its way to a final vote or Republican support crumbles.

Not every member of the GOP on Capitol Hill is gung ho about the idea. It’s unclear exactly how many, but estimates of GOP opponents range from as few as a dozen to two dozen to as many as 60, according to various news reports. The lower estimates are likely not enough, but the higher ones could sink the bill, which is designed to allow Obama to sign the Trans Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade deal that would affect about a third of the world’s trade.

Critics fear that fast-track authority would further exacerbate income inequality and cut deeper into a manufacturing sector that bled millions of jobs last decade. Ohio Rep. David Joyce said he doesn’t understand why his fellow Republicans support trade promotion authority (or TPA) — which would limit debate in Congress by allowing the president to negotiate deals that could only be voted up or down without amendment — when they oppose Obama’s negotiations on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“I find it sort of humorous that they don’t trust the president on Iran or anything else but they’ll trust him with TPA, which I think could really do severe damage to our country and to manufacturing as a whole,” says Joyce, who counts himself among about a dozen GOP opponents.

Tucked in between Cleveland and Akron and spread into the northeast tip of the state, Joyce’s district boasts a manufacturing economy composed of 1,500 companies responsible for around 65,400 jobs and $930 million in wages, according to his office. “I never believed the president had this authority to begin with,” says Joyce. “So you start with that premise. And then in the last 28 months as I’ve worked the district, I’ve learned more and more manufacturers say this just hasn’t worked for us.”

Some pro-trade economists criticize opponents like Joyce for listening to politically active but less important sectors of their state. Two of the top five industries that gave the most money to Joyce’s reelection campaign last year were manufacturing companies and transportation unions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And while the manufacturing sector employs about 13 percent of his state’s workforce, Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, a fierce TPA opponent, tells TIME that the industry “matters to us as much or more than other state in the country.”

“I’m sure Ohio thinks of itself as a manufacturing state,” says Gary Clyde Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It’s not. Nobody is today. Manufacturing is down to about 11% of employment in the U.S.”

“There are many strong service industries in the US which will export abroad who are totally underrepresented in the political debate,” he adds. “The political debate is all centered on manufacturing and agriculture. And services, which is two thirds of our economy, is pretty well forgotten.”

The TPP deal the Administration has been negotiating for nearly five years would affect a broad swath of international law concerning a host of issues including those concerning labor, the environment, intellectual property, agriculture, data exclusivity and investor-state arbitration among others. Peter Petri, a Brandeis University professor of international finance whose models have been used by the Chamber of Commerce, says that the Trans Pacific Partnership will set the “benchmark” for global trade rules in relatively new areas in the services, investment and internet industries in which America has a competitive advantage.

“Global rules are becoming steadily less relevant in these areas because they were negotiated 20 years ago,” Petri tells TIME. “So we are heading for anarchy of sorts, with big countries deciding on an ad hoc basis on how to deal with each new technology, transaction and company, based on their narrow, short-term advantage. For the US, this may mean keeping a few more jobs in low-wage industries, but it will frustrate our most important global industries, and probably weaken the world economy for everyone.”

But even by Petri’s calculations the macroeconomic effect for the trade deal would be modest, adding about $77 billion per year to U.S. real incomes by 2025. And there will be winners — sophisticated equipment manufacturers for everything from turbines to medical equipment to heavy earth-moving machines — and losers, including producers of furniture and basic consumer electronics, according to Hufbauer. A Peterson Institute study says the U.S. manufacturing sector will contract by $44 billion, while companies in the services industry will expand by $79 billion.

Brown, who wears a canary in a cage pin to display his solidarity with workers’ rights, argues that TPP will be a disaster, with broad, long-lasting negative consequences for both his state and country.

“Fundamentally what these trade agreements have done is encouraged companies to follow business plans, which were sort of unknown until 20 years ago, where you shut down production in Steubenville or Toledo and move it to Wuhan or Mexico City and sell the products back into the United States,” says Brown.

“They talk about increased exports, but that’s a lot like saying well the Tigers got 5 runs, but the Indians got 7,” adds Brown of the United States Trade Representative office, which has been lobbying Democrats. “So you’ve got to talk exports-imports and every trade agreement we pass, we end up losing more jobs — good-paying manufacturing jobs, often union jobs, sometimes not.”

The debate will only heat up in next several weeks when TPA heads to the floor of the Senate and House. While Boehner and other Republicans in leadership continue to push the bill, Brown will headline an AFL-CIO event in Cleveland on May 4 in protest. Meanwhile Joyce will lay low — he doesn’t plan on attending any trade-specific events back home next week.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com