Clinton splits again with White House, this time over TPP

Democratic presidential front runner opposes new trade pact in another break from Obama

Mrs Hillary Clinton arriving at a campaign event in Davenport, Iowa, this week. The former secretary of state in the Obama administration is proving to be her own woman on the campaign trail.
Mrs Hillary Clinton arriving at a campaign event in Davenport, Iowa, this week. The former secretary of state in the Obama administration is proving to be her own woman on the campaign trail.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • As US President Barack Obama's secretary of state, Mrs Hillary Clinton loyally carried out his agenda, but since mounting her presidential bid she has split with the White House on several key issues, including global trade.

Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is too risky, she argues. Deportations? The administration's record rate of sending undocumented immigrants home was unnecessarily "breaking up families", she said.

The White House has dilly-dallied on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and Mrs Clinton recently came out against it. As for Syria, she has complained that aiding and arming Syrian rebels was taking too long.

Gun violence? If elected, Mrs Clinton said she would try to circumvent a gridlocked Congress to implement stricter gun laws.

Obamacare? Mrs Clinton acknowledges that the controversial healthcare law has largely worked, but she wants to end its tax on high-end insurance plans.

While Mrs Clinton has praised Mr Obama for digging America out of an economic ditch, her parting ways with him on key policies signals she is her own woman on the campaign trail. The latest and most prominent break came on Wednesday when the 2016 Democratic front runner announced her opposition to the historic trade accord that Washington sealed this week with 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

"As of today, I am not in favour of what I have learnt about it," she told public broadcaster PBS. "I don't believe it is going to meet the high bar that I have set."

As America's top diplomat, Mrs Clinton spent years selling the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to countries such as Australia, Japan and Vietnam.

The Republican National Committee pounced on her "flip-flop", branding it a "case study in political expediency" and an example of why many Americans do not trust her. She caught flak from her Democratic nomination rivals too, including former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley.

"Leadership isn't changing your position on the eve of debate," he tweeted, referring to next week's debut Democratic showdown. "It is standing up for the American worker always."

Political shape-shifting can be dangerous for a candidate as it arouses suspicion about character, motive and political gain.

Mrs Clinton has been more firm on Syria. In her book Hard Choices, she wrote that while secretary of state she urged Mr Obama to arm and train Syrian rebels far earlier than he ultimately did.

Mrs Clinton's differences with Mr Obama go back to their occasionally acrimonious 2008 nomination battle in which Mr Obama needled her over her Senate vote for the Iraq war, which he said he opposed.

Her recent departures from White House doctrine have caught the President's eye. "I think that there's a difference between running for president and being president," Mr Obama said after Mrs Clinton broke with him over Syria.

"I think Hillary Clinton would be the first to say that when you're sitting in the seat that I'm sitting in the situation room, things look a little bit different, because she has been right there next to me."

Mrs Clinton has stressed that she is not running for a third Obama term - or a third Bill Clinton term, for that matter. But for the former first lady, the question remains how far she will go to set herself apart.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2015, with the headline 'Clinton splits again with White House, this time over TPP'. Subscribe