Congress

TPP dies, Washington state merely sighs – so goes free trade in the new Trump era

Former Japanese Agriculture Minister Masahiko Yamada, center, and other demonstrators protest outside the Westin Maui resort in Lahaina, Hawaii, on July 29, 2015, as ministers from Pacific Rim nations gathered to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. President Donald Trump on Monday withdrew the U.S. from the 12-nation pact, which had been a top priority for former President Barack Obama.
Former Japanese Agriculture Minister Masahiko Yamada, center, and other demonstrators protest outside the Westin Maui resort in Lahaina, Hawaii, on July 29, 2015, as ministers from Pacific Rim nations gathered to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. President Donald Trump on Monday withdrew the U.S. from the 12-nation pact, which had been a top priority for former President Barack Obama. AP

When President Donald Trump officially killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Monday, it drew only a tepid response from federal lawmakers in the state that could have the most to lose, a sure sign of the pernicious politics facing trade backers in Congress.

After spending years of talking up the benefits of global trade, few members of the Washington state congressional delegation criticized the president for withdrawing from the largest proposed trade pact in history, commonly called the TPP.

It marked a departure for a delegation that has a long history of uniting behind trade deals: In 2011, the delegation voted unanimously for trade pacts with Korea and Panama, while 10 of 11 members backed a Colombia trade deal.

Trump’s action is good news for trade critics in Washington state, who have applied big-time pressure on members of the delegation to change their pro-trade stances.

“Yeah, It’s been a fierce fight,” Gillian Locascio, director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, said Tuesday. “We feel like it’s been a long time coming.”

In the nation’s most trade-dependent state, where two of every five jobs already are linked to global trade, the Seattle-based Washington Council on International Trade business groups predicted that the demise of the TPP could cost more than 26,000 jobs.

Lori Otto Punke, president of the Washington trade council, called it “a shame to let go of all those benefits.”

While Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain called Trump’s move “a serious mistake that will have lasting consequences” for the U.S. economy, longtime trade backers in Washington state such as Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were far less harsh.

“President Trump promised on the campaign trail that he would stand with workers and middle class families when he negotiates trade deals, so I will take a look at what he puts forward and I will do everything I can to make sure any trade deal works for Washington state workers and economy,” Murray said Tuesday.

And Bryan Watt, a spokesman for Cantwell, said the senator is “watching the developments” and will be “discussing their impacts with constituents, companies, unions and other stakeholders” in the state.

Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, an aggressive promoter of the deal and the head of the House trade subcommittee, said the pact “needed to be improved.”

“I look forward to working with the president and his administration on this top priority,” he said.

And Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse, whose agricultural district could be among the hardest hit, said that Trump’s move was “not surprising, given the president’s stated commitment” to withdraw from the deal.

“I am glad that President Trump also emphasized today the importance of trade and negotiating effective trade deals,” Newhouse said.

Many members of the delegation, including Murray and Democratic Reps. Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck, have taken plenty of heat in the past two years from anti-trade protesters.

In 2015, Murray and Kilmer voted to back President Barack Obama’s request for trade-promotion authority, which would have forced Congress to take an up-or-down vote on the TPP with no amendments or filibusters allowed. Both were criticized by anti-trade groups, along with Heck, even though he opposed the fast-track bill.

Anti-trade groups accused Murray of having “sold out” to corporate interests, with some saying she shouldn’t qualify for a leadership post among Senate Democrats because of her vote.

Thurston County Democrats, fearing that both Murray and Heck would back the TPP, voted not to endorse either of them last year.

And anti-trade protesters even showed up at Kilmer’s office, pressuring him to oppose the TPP.

While Kilmer never took a firm position on the trade pact, he reacted to Trump’s move by saying he had “made it clear that he would not support any trade agreement unless it helped us export American products and not American jobs, and contained strong, enforceable protections for labor and the environment to help raise global standards in these areas.”

“That will continue to be my test going forward, and I plan to hold President Trump and his administration to those principles,” Kilmer said.

Perhaps the strongest reaction came from Washington state Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen, who issued a statement with two other members of the pro-trade New Democrat Coalition. They accused Trump of “hastily withdrawing” from an agreement and acting in a way that “cedes American leadership not only economically, but also geopolitically.”

Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene said the Trump administration has been “long on rhetoric and short on specifics” and that she’ll continue “to work toward policies that are good for workers, like raising environmental and labor standards, while promoting the digital economy and innovation.”

“We need trade policies that support America’s working families and open up new markets for American products, but that doesn’t mean we have to close our doors,” she said.

One member who’s happy with Trump’s move is freshman Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the only newcomer in the Washington state delegation. She backed Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in his presidential bid last year and, like Sanders, she opposed the trade pact, as well.

Locascio, the director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, said the group is “appreciative of our Washington state delegation for listening to our concerns,” adding that the group will be ready for the next trade battle.

“The true test will be what replaces TPP,” she said.

Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-6154, @HotakainenRob

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