Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Did Obama Just Doom Joe Biden's Candidacy?


by Gaius Publius

Recently, in writing about the newly-opened TPP issue — yes, it's about to be finalized, initialed and voted on — I said that three of the four major candidates had known positions. Trump and Sanders are strongly opposed (or so Trump says), and Biden is reportedly in favor. Clinton, the last candidate to declare her position, is going to be forced to make her views known soon, since she has tied her delay to the fact that the final text is unavailable. That's about to change.

In this piece, I want to look at Biden more closely. The evidence I had seen for Biden's TPP support — other than his history as a strongly pro-business "centrist" — is this, from Oliver Knox:
Now, thanks to Dave Johnson at, we have more. Johnson writes:
Can Biden Run For President With TPP Around His Neck?

Vice President Joe Biden is considering a run for president. But Biden is currently working behind the scenes to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which most (if not all) core Democratic-aligned groups will likely oppose. Can Biden run for president as a Democrat after pushing TPP on us?

While TPP is being negotiated in secret, some parts of it have leaked. This limited information indicates that TPP is another “NAFTA-style” corporate-dominated agreement, designed to elevate corporations above government, limit the ability of citizens to make laws and regulations that protect them from corporate harms and scams, and to force wages down so a few executives and “investors” can pocket the wage differential.

Autos And Parts, For Example

One (only one) example of the “NAFTA-style” damage that TPP might do is a provision that actually weakens the limited protections NAFTA granted to auto and parts manufacturers.

Under NAFTA, auto companies and parts suppliers in countries in the agreement were given a level of tariff-free status through “content requirements.” But, according to leaks, in TPP the U.S. is actually pushing for lowered content requirements for cars and auto parts. (I explained the details in “TPP Terms Are Even Worse For U.S. Than NAFTA?“) This means China can get that business through Japan, which will force layoffs of workers and closures of factories. This is just one example of how TPP is actually even worse for American (and Canadian and Mexican) workers than NAFTA was.
Johnson lists many more examples, then returns to Biden:
Biden Active In Pushing TPP

Biden does not just happen to be in an administration that is pushing TPP; he is working hard to push TPP himself.

For example, Biden met with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York Tuesday to encourage him to help wrap up TPP this week. Japan Times has the story, in “Abe, Biden agree to work together to conclude TPP talks possibly this week“:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden agreed Tuesday that the two countries will cooperate to conclude talks on a Pacific free trade initiative this week, both governments said.

Biden and Abe agreed that their negotiating teams for the Trans-Pacific Partnership would work closely together “with the goal of resolving the limited number of outstanding issues at the upcoming ministers meeting in Atlanta,” according to the White House.

… A Japanese official who attended the meeting quoted Biden as saying that the 12 countries engaged in TPP talks should strike a deal on this opportunity.


Can Biden Run As A Democrat After Pushing TPP?

There are some things that a candidate in the Democratic primaries just can’t do. A Democrat can’t be for cutting Social Security or Medicare when “the base” wants candidates who are in favor of expanding it. A Democrat can’t be in favor of cutting taxes for the billionaires and corporations.

A Democrat can’t be in favor of doing things that hurt the environment and increase the threat of climate change, such as building the Keystone Pipeline.

Those are some of the third rails for the kind of Democrats who are active, informed and vote in primaries. But in the next year – assuming TPP is even half as bad for 99 percent of us that leaks have indicated it is – TPP will be the third rail of all third rails. The one thing certain to kill the chances of being nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate is not being out there on the front lines fighting tooth and nail to stop TPP. Because of this, Joe Biden is not a Democrat who can run for president in 2016 and win the nomination.
I think Joe Biden is caught. His boss has tossed a trade "agreement" (remember, it's not a treaty) into the political process at the worst possible time — for everyone but Obama himself. Biden has whipped for Fast Track, actively. Will he whip for or against TPP when it comes up for a vote?

The Timing Is Against the Pro-TPP Candidates

Keep the timing in mind. As soon as Obama initials a final draft and signals his "intent to sign," the legislative clock starts ticking. Obama has 30 days to make the draft public, and Congress has at least 90 days for debate, but not much more, before it can or must vote. Fast Track means that after 90 days, the bill must move expeditiously through the House and Senate. Public Citizen figures that roughly 4½ months after the draft is initialed, we could see a vote.

If a final draft is initialed on November 1, it will be public on December 1. There's a Democratic debate scheduled for December 19 — the Saturday before Christmas — which means everyone on stage will be forced to comment on it in each other's presence. Ninety days from November 1 is February 1 (roughly). The Iowa caucus is February 1, and the New Hampshire primary is February 9.

Obama could delay a congressional vote by delaying the date he declares his "intent to sign." That might help a waffling Democratic candidate, if there is one, until the field is clear — after Super Tuesday, say, when Clinton hopes to deliver a knockout blow to Sanders — but it won't help Joe Biden. Unlike any of the other candidates, he's part of the administration. He'll therefore certainly be asked his opinion on TPP well ahead of a vote. What are his choices? He can say:
  • "I like it" and sink himself with Democrats.
  • "I don't like it" and sink himself with Obama.
  • "I'm not sure" ... and sink himself with Democrats and Obama.
Anything but a full-voiced Yes from Biden could threaten passage of the bill, and this administration, including Obama very very personally, wants TPP to pass badly. I think we can therefore say, based on what we know now, that Biden's presidential bid, if it ever existed, is over. Thanks to his boss, the timing, and thanks to TPP.

I haven't looked at Clinton and TPP very closely, since in the near term she's delaying judgment. Looking back through the decades until roughly a year or so ago, though, I think many of us are well aware of Clinton's fairly obvious support. Still, she could do with TPP what she did with Keystone and gay marriage — find that being wrong on these issues, in this year, is a bridge too far for a 2016 Democrat.

But like Biden, Clinton has the same three choices, and this deserves some thought. Don't consider what her choice might mean relative to Obama. Consider what her choice might mean relative to TPP passing Congress. What if she waffles, and Sanders is still in the race? Does TPP pass while her candidacy fails? What if she's opposed, and the bill has yet to be voted on? Does TPP fail while she stays viable?

I know what I'd like her to do, but that's all I do know. Interesting problem.


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At 12:23 PM, Blogger William H Duncan said...

Don't be surprised at all if TPP is not a question at that first Dem debate. If it comes up, it will probably come from Bernie forcing the issue. And I would bet the moderator will quickly sidestep the issue. And don't expect Bernie to force the question on Hillary. Unless of course, the nation is clearly in an uproar about it, and the moderator can't avoid asking without signalling he/she is an anti-democratic globalist. But also, even if Hillary says she is against it, she might assure behind the scenes, all of her corporate and banking donors, she is for it. I expect her to try to hedge even if she has to answer the question.


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