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Democrats Prioritize Party Unity Over Including Stand Against TPP In Platform

Members of the Democratic National Convention Platform Committee shot down an attempt to include specific opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal in the platform, despite the fact that both Democratic presidential candidates have taken positions against the TPP.

The attempt failed because members appointed by Hillary Clinton and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz claimed it was improper to oppose the TPP when President Barack Obama fervently believes in the agreement. However, by putting party unity before taking a firm stand against the trade agreement, the door was left open for Clinton to go back to supporting the TPP, which was the case when she was secretary of state.

“It is hard for me to understand why Secretary Clinton’s delegates won’t stand behind Secretary Clinton’s positions in the party’s platform,” Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said.

Representative Keith Ellison, who was appointed by Sanders campaign, proposed the following language for the platform: “It is the policy of the Democratic Party that the Trans-Pacific Partnership must not get a vote in this Congress or future sessions of Congress.”

In arguing for this position, Ellison acknowledged a key issue is the investor state dispute resolution systems “usurp national sovereignty.” For example, as later mentioned by environmental activist Bill McKibben, TransCanada has brought a claim under the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) against the U.S. government for $10 billion because the Keystone XL pipeline.

Food safety, the extension of monopoly drug patents, and human rights are also fundamental issues, Ellison added. The TPP would grant Malaysia, “one of the worst human traffickers, privileged access to the U.S. market.”

“Our workers wouldn’t be competing against low wage. They’ll be competing against no wage,” Ellison said.

It also would empower Vietnam, even though the country jails political dissidents, commits systematic union repression, and uses child labor.

“We’ve had moving testimony about how our trade policy, particularly after the aftermath of NAFTA, has really inflicted real pain on real families. I’ll never forget the gentleman who testified who was losing his job from Nabisco in Chicago,” Ellison shared.

Ellison recognized, “Some people, who have promoted the TPP, are fairly highly placed in the Democratic Party, but I can tell you as a member of the Democratic caucus” that there is a “substantial concern about the TPP.” He suggested most votes for TPP would come from the Republicans.

Cornel West at a meeting of the Democratic Party Platform Committee

Cornel West at a meeting of the Democratic Party Platform Committee

Cornel West pled with members to “take a stand.”

“We can agree with him on some things, disagree with him on others,” West declared. “I think he’s wrong on this issue. This is really about corporate power, and those of us who are very suspicious of corporate power and fundamentally committed to democratic accountability and transparency, not secretive operations and fast tracks and so forth.”

West added, “It says much about who we are as a nation, as a party, in terms of TPP. It’s not just some fetishized policy, but it’s a fundamental expression of who we are vis-a-vis people power and corporate power.”

The case for supporting the inclusion of this language of the platform expanded, as McKibben noted that there was little to no diversity of views on this issue. “Every interest group that we’ve heard from, human rights groups, labor groups, and environmental groups, have been firm in their denunciation of TPP.”

McKibben spoke about the dispute resolution system that TransCanada is wielding to its advantage and said it reflected the “deeply anti-democratic nature of these trade agreements in a modern age, which have far less to do with free trade than they do with untrammeled corporate power and that untrammeled corporate power has a great deal to do with the rampant income inequality that we decry time and time again in this platform.”

Deborah Parker, an indigenous woman appointed by Sanders, registered her support, saying “unfettered free trade deals have been rigged by corporate America” for decades. She not only is concerned for workers in the United States but also workers in countries like China and Mexico.

But none of the above was enough to move the Clinton and DNC chairwoman appointees. In fact, it seems to make them more resolute in their belief that putting party unity before taking a stand on the TPP was the right thing to do.

“The platform language should affirm what our candidates said but not imply that Democrats are all in agreement and say that the Democratic Party is now taking a platform position in opposition to what significant parts of the Democratic Party currently hold to,” Paul Booth, executive assistant to the president of AFSCME incoherently declared.

Representative Luis Gutierrez boasted about his record opposing trade agreements. He bragged that no president could move him to support free trade deals. Yet, he said, “What I don’t want to do is leave this place disregarding the position of the President of the United States, who is the leader of our party today, independent of my disagreement with him.”

“I’ve been taken away in handcuffs more than once in my disagreement with this President of the United States, but this is the moment to bring our party together and I don’t want to send a message of disunity,” Gutierrez added.

Even platform committee chair, Representative E.J. Cummings, chose to vote against the resolution. He, too, bragged about not voting for trade agreements.

“I don’t want to do anything as he ends his term to undercut the president of the United States. I’m just not going to do it. And that’s where I stand,” Cummings proclaimed. “It wouldn’t bother me. It would be a harder decision if the language that we have in the document did not already go to what we feel going forward. But in his last six months, I’m not going to do that. So, that’s where I stand.”

There was only one member of the platform, who stood up for the TPP. Former Representative Howard Berman, appointed by the DNC chairwoman, stated, “The president’s right in what he is doing. There are serious foreign policy, national securities wrapped up in this,” he said, and disputed whether free trade agreements were responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs.

Everyone but Sanders’ appointees cowered under the banner of party unity to avoid taking a strong stance.

“I never like taking a position against the President, but there are certain things that are just little more important. Seeing our working class just erode in part because of the trade deals is something that I don’t want to stand for,” Ellison responded. “I’d like to do something strong.”

McKibben argued, “This document [the platform] is less about the current situation than about going forward and thinking about even future generations. I think in this case if we don’t adopt this resolution we miss a real opportunity for party unity.”

“This is one of the issues on which Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders agreed. It was an important moment in the campaign when Secretary Clinton was willing to say she was against the TPP,” McKibben continued. “It was one of the things that has been held up in her favor by people, and I think that if we do not ratify as part of the platform it will help those many people feel suspicious in ways that people across our political spectrum feel suspicious about political leaders. I think it would be an act of support for the party going forward to agree on this thing that they have actually agreed on.”

Again, the only reason why Clinton appointees would not want to put this in the platform was if Clinton was planning to backtrack on her opposition to the TPP if she is elected president.

West stepped up to make an eloquent statement about “profound loyalty to the President.”

“It strikes me that in many ways it’s salutary. I can understand it, what it means to be a member of party and have a leader going through what President Barack Obama has gone through in eight years. But it just strikes me as well that in the end we’re citizens, and a citizen has a fundamental commitment to truth and justice even beyond a party and leader,” West declared.

West added, “If my dear brother Bernie Sanders were president and I thought he was wrong on an issue, I would tell him candidly in private and directly in public, but with a support but a critical support.”

Cummings took this as a personal attack against him and reacted, “There is nobody that fights harder for poor and working people than I do. I mean, every day.”

But, as West stated later, “Any time we use the language of party unity, and some of us are convinced that a particular policy has devastating impact on working people, we’re then talking about a form of unity that’s predicated on the backs of working people.”

Booth put forward a resolution afterward, which included weaker language that indicated there is disagreement over the TPP among Democrats. It was an odd amendment because it gave corporate Democrats cover to support a trade deal that everyone on the platform committee claims is antithetical to the values of Democrats.

“It would be one thing if this was the very first trade agreement that we were debating, Trans-Pacific Partnership. We had one side take one position and another side take another position,” Warren Gunnels, policy adviser to the Sanders campaign, argued. “The problem is we’ve been down this road before. We were told in 1993, 1994, that NAFTA would create a million jobs over the first five years, and we all know—we’ve had over 20 years experience now—that NAFTA has led to the loss of over 850,000 jobs.”

“Then, in 1999, we were told that  permanent trade relations with China would create jobs in the United states. It would be a 100-0 deal in favor of this country. What happened was the United States ended up losing 3.2 million jobs because of permanent normal trade relations with China. Now the experts tell us if the Trans-Pacific Partnership passes, the United States will lose another half millions jobs,” according to Gunnels. [*Note: Gunnels is a non-voting member of the platform committee.]

James Zogby, who was appointed by Sanders, weighed in, because he believed the way that Booth conceptualized his resolution might be appealing to him later in the proceedings. For example, what if they could acknowledge not all Democrats support perpetual war?

In any case, Zogby ultimately stated, “I find it not acceptable to fudge it in the way that we are, especially when we have agreement among the candidates and we have agreement among the majority of our Democratic constituency, not just in Congress but across the board nationally. This is an issue around which there’s consensus, broad consensus, and I think we owe it to ourselves and to the principle to be firm on it.”

Center For American Progress president Neera Tanden at a meeting of the Democratic Party Platform Committee.

Center For American Progress president Neera Tanden at a meeting of the Democratic Party Platform Committee.

However, loyalty to party and the President of the United States trumped conscience and principles.

On top of that, Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden, appointed by Clinton, patronizingly addressed all the Sanders appointees upset with the craven members of the committee.

“I take all your comments, and I think a lot of people around this table oppose the TPP,” Tanden said. “I think the issue about the previous amendment was just frankly about the President’s position. But I don’t take away any of the statements you made. Many of us are in wholehearted agreement with your criticism of TPP and free trade deals.”

In fact, the Clinton and DNC chairwoman appointees were not in “wholehearted agreement.” They could not be moved to act on their opposition to the TPP in a manner that would show solidarity with working class Americans across the country, who have suffered through the staggering impact of destructive trade deals.

Photo by wumpiewoo on Flickr
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."