US Elections 2016: Final countdown

Clinton aides struggled over trade stance, e-mails show

Mrs Clinton greeting a baby at a campaign rally in Florida on Wednesday. She maintains the Trans-Pacific Partnership in its current form fails to boost job growth, wages and national security.
Mrs Clinton greeting a baby at a campaign rally in Florida on Wednesday. She maintains the Trans-Pacific Partnership in its current form fails to boost job growth, wages and national security.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Hacked e-mails show bid to balance previous support for TPP with appeasing labour groups

WASHINGTON • Even before Mrs Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign was launched, her advisers were struggling over how to position her on trade, the Politico website reported yesterday, citing WikiLeaks' latest release of hacked e-mails.

The leaked e-mails, supposedly from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's account, show that her advisers struggled to balance the need to appease the anti-Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP) labour groups with her support for the deal as Secretary of State. At times, even her top advisers were unsure what her stance was, Politico reported.

"I can't recall where we landed exactly on trade," Mr Robby Mook, who went on to become Mrs Clinton's campaign manager, wrote to four of her top advisers in March last year, a month before she officially announced her campaign. "Is she going to say she supports it?"

The issue arose as Congress was deliberating advancing Trade Promotion Authority legislation, which allowed President Barack Obama to wrap up the TPP later that year.

Under pressure to take a position, Mrs Clinton's campaign stopped short of supporting the deal. But on April 17 last year, a day after senators introduced the "fast-track" Bill, the campaign said she "will be watching closely" to see how the deal affects currency, labour rights and environmental concerns.

"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," spokesman Nick Merrill said in a statement.

"Second, it must also strengthen our national security. We should be willing to walk away from any outcome that falls short of these tests. The goal is greater prosperity and security for American families, not trade for trade's sake."

The aides were relieved, with Mrs Clinton's former deputy secretary of state for management Tom Nides noting in an e-mail to Mr Podesta the next day: "Ok that was well done on tpp... How long we get to stick god only knows but well done."

Mrs Clinton came out against the pact on Oct 7 last year, two days after the Obama administration wrapped up the TPP negotiations.

"We can't survive hemming and hawing for three weeks," Mr Podesta wrote in an e-mail just before the announcement - overruling views of labour outreach director Nikki Budzinski, who advocated Mrs Clinton not take a formal position until the final TPP text was released, which happened on Nov 5 last year.

"If she weighs in now, without viewing the document, some in labour might wonder why she didn't just say she opposed earlier?" Ms Budzinski wrote.

Fear of angering unions is clear in the e-mails, Politico said. Backing the TPP "would be lethal with labour", Mr Mook wrote before Mrs Clinton came out against the pact.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request to comment on Wednesday's leak and has declined to comment on the veracity of the contents, accusing WikiLeaks of working to aid Russia and Mr Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Mrs Clinton maintains the TPP in its current form fails to boost job growth, wages and national security.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2016, with the headline 'Clinton aides struggled over trade stance, e-mails show'. Print Edition | Subscribe