WASHINGTON — President Obama went on the offensive Friday, gearing up to make a last push this fall to get the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal through Congress while he is still in office.
Obama held an Oval Office meeting with several business executives and financial and political leaders, enlisting their help to create momentum for the trade deal. Among those who attended the meeting were Ginni Rometty, chairwoman, president and chief executive officer of IBM; Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and founder of Bloomberg LP; Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Henry Paulson, chairman of the Paulson Institute and former Treasury Secretary under President George W. Bush.
“This bipartisan group made up of business leaders, mayors, governors, Republicans, Democrats, national security leaders and military leaders — the reason they’re here is because they know this is important for our economy and they know that this is important for our national security and our standing in the world,” Obama said before the meeting. “Right now, China is pushing hard to create their own trading regime out in Asia and I promise you that China is not going to be setting up a bunch of rules that are going to be to the advantage of American companies and American businesses. If we are not in there and making sure that fair trade is established in the Asia market, we’re going to be cut out.”
TPP includes the U.S., Australia, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Brunei and New Zealand and would encompass nearly 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
The sweeping trade deal faces significant hurdles in Congress and its chances of passing in a lame duck session after the presidential election this year appear slim.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump have reiterated their strong opposition to TPP. Obama and several cabinet members have joined forces with former officials and key business groups to garner support for the pact, which is seen as a potential component of Obama’s legacy.
But it will ultimately be up to Congressional leaders to bring the controversial trade deal up for a vote this year and both Senate and House of Representative leaders have expressed concerns about the pact and indicated the votes are not there to approve it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) recently said the chances are “pretty slim” that TPP will get a vote in the Senate this year.
“I know that the politics these days tends to look at trade as something that is negative,” Obama said. “But if you talk to the farmers and the ranchers, and the manufacturers and the service industries that are dependent on us selling American exports around the world, they will tell you we’ve got to get this done.”
Obama said the group would strategize on how to get the message out on the economic and geopolitical importance of TPP.
“It’s frustrating I think sometimes that there’s so much misinformation floating around on this,” he said. “But the good news is that people whose business it is to make sure that America has a strong position in the world and that our economy is improving understand that this needs to get done.”
He added that more than 100 mayors have signed a letter in support, as have Democratic and Republican governors, chambers of commerce and business leaders.
“Even though we’re in an election season…this is not something I’m letting up on,” he said. “ I don’t have any more elections to run and the reason that I’m pushing this so hard is because I know and other countries know, and China knows, that if we get this done, advantage America. And if we don’t, then we’re going to be disadvantaged for a long time to come.”
Kasich, who ran against Trump in the primaries, was one of the few GOP candidates who expressed support for TPP.
“Economically, trade always makes sense,” Kasich said later at a White House daily press briefing. “Are there losers in trade? Yes, there are. That’s why it’s important to have a system for retraining people for the jobs of the future. If you don’t trade, you hurt consumers. If you don’t trade, you hurt innovation and if you don’t trade, you withdraw from the world.”
Asked what the strategy is, Kasich said proponents can get the message out for TPP in multiple ways.
“The president of the United States in a quiet way without press conferences or blaring trumpets needs to meet with groups of people we know are not likely to support this, but they don’t want to see it die,” he said. “The national security message should resonate with every member of Congress. I think there will be an aggressive move on this. I am optimistic that with the right appeal, people will put country ahead of political concerns…With the right group of people involved, you can pull this thing out and have a good victory.”