Barack Obama vs. Elizabeth Warren on Trade

An economic clash emerges between two liberal titans.


There are two kinds of Washington fights, the theatrical and the genuine.

In a theatrical fight, both sides go through the motions. They may look like they are really fighting, but it's really just a charade designed to communicate to constituents and interest groups. The final outcome is preordained.

In a genuine fight, the outcome is actually uncertain, and the combatants are really annoyed, not just pretending. That kind of fight creates real winners, real losers, and, sometimes, lasting rifts and scars.

The fight under way right now about trade between Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama is starting to look more and more like a genuine fight.

President Obama got testy in a recent interview with Yahoo! News, calling Senator Warren "absolutely wrong" and noting, "The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else."

The Yahoo! News reporter, Matt Bai, said Obama "seemed unusually irritated." Bai wrote, "like a marriage in which the spouses pretend to be happier than they really are, Obama's polite alliance with the populist left appears to be suddenly crumbling under the weight of free trade."

Senator Warren, for her part, responded by accusing Obama of trying to pass a secret deal. She told The Washington Post: "the president won't actually let people read the agreement for themselves. It's classified." And in a move that can't have pleased President Obama, she not-so-subtly suggested that Hillary Clinton—his one-time-rival and would-be-successor—has a firmer grasp of the matter: "Hillary Clinton in her book raised concerns about precisely this issue."

As Obama himself observed, part of the reason this is so raw for the left and labor is that they still haven't gotten over Bill Clinton and Al Gore's support, more than 20 years ago, of the North America Free Trade Agreement. If Obama succeeds in getting fast-track authorization from Congress for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and then succeeds in getting a deal passed, it could be a similarly significant achievement.

If Obama is looking for a Democratic precedent on the trade issue, he needn't stop with Bill Clinton or Al Gore. He could go back to John F. Kennedy, who made trade expansion his top legislative priority in 1962, annoying liberals like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (who called the trade initiative "mistaken" and "overrated.") As Kennedy wrote in a January 25, 1962, Special Message to the Congress on Foreign Trade Policy, "The American consumer benefits most of all from an increase in foreign trade. Imports give him a wider choice of products at competitive prices." Kennedy went on, "the warnings against increased imports based upon the lower level of wages paid in other countries are not telling the whole story."

And Kennedy concluded, "This philosophy of the free market—the wider economic choice for men and nations—is as old as freedom itself. It is not a partisan philosophy. For many years our trade legislation has enjoyed bi-partisan backing from those members of both parties who recognized how essential trade is to our basic security abroad and our economic health at home."

Alas, while being in favor of a free market on trade is bipartisan, so is being against it; a Wall Street Journal editorial points out that Senator Warren, a Democrat of Massachusetts, is joined by Senator Sessions, a Republican of Alabama, in opposing the fast-track trade promotion authority for the president.

Give President Obama credit for taking on Senator Warren rhetorically in favor of free trade. But what about in Congress itself? Will Obama cut deals with individual legislators or twist arms to win their support for fast-track or the Trans-Pacific Partnership the same way he bought support for ObamaCare? With luck, that won't be necessary. If it is necessary, though, then we'll get a chance to see for sure whether this Washington fight is merely theatrical or really genuine. Fortunately, it comes close enough to the 2016 presidential election that contenders for that job will need to choose sides, too.

NEXT: Could Congressional Gridlock Save Us from the PATRIOT Act?

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  1. the only fair trade is free trade.

  2. It's genuine. President Obama is right in promoting more trade with fewer restrictions. I can't really recall a time in history when a country did not benefit from trade.

    Elizabeth Warren is the progressive equivalent of "They took our jobs!"

    It's funny because progressives make fun of conservatives about immigration over this line but then use the same line when it comes to trade.

    If anyone ever needed a reason to hate all political ideologies, the hypocrisy of all sides should foot the bill.

  3. Ira has conflated "free trade" with the "TPP". He has stated that Obama has "rhetorically" supported "free trade".

    In fact, Obama is supporting the TPP wherein political appointees & government bureaucrats will administer a managed trade regime in exchange for campaign contributions.

    1. ^^This^^
      Free trade is the right thing to do - but I suspect the TPP is about anything but free trade.

      1. Free trade does not require thousands of negotiated pages and total secrecy.

        it's either... hey, lets remove all tarriffs or hey let's each side protect some of our cronies and fuck everyone else.

        Trade agreements that take thousands of pages are the latter and never the former.

        I suspect the US is getting what remains of it's manufacturing base moved offshore finishing what NAFTA started.

        1. So our children and grandchildren can look forward to trying to make a living flipping burgers for each other if the robot burger makers haven't ended that career choice by then.

          Just last month the US set another record trade deficit of 50 billion for one month.

          Decades of this have already sucked so much wealth from the US and spread it around the world. I can't see how the US as an entity can continue for decades more of that , much less at an even greater rate.

          1. Um, what? Free trade may hurt certain sectors that aren't competitive on a global scale, but it hardly sucks wealth out of the country as a whole. We benefit from cheaper goods and services and more efficient specialization.

            1. We, as a country can claim that based on certain handpicked criteria. If "free trade" is so good for our country why have we run trade deficits since NAFTA. I'm sure you know what a trade deficit is, right ? So how can decades of trade deficits not do anything else but take wealth out of the country and implant it in others. We have shipped hundreds of billions of dollars out of this country probably in oil imports alone.

              Value added production is what creates wealth. Service jobs just redistribute wealth. IF free trade creates trade deficits then it cannot do anything but drain wealth out of the net importer in favor of the net exporter.

              I support free trade but "free trade agreements" that run thousands of pages of carve outs ? Not so much. I was personally shafted by NAFTA which allowed my Mexican business associates to come into the US and do for themselves what I once did for them. It also prevented me from going into Mexico and doing the same, That's not free trade.

              Is a former steelworker who once could support his family and send his children to college on his salary while his wife ran the household really better off by having to have his wife work while he works in pest control at half his one time salary just because he can buy 5 cheap shirts at Wal Mart ?

              I don't trust anyone in Obama's White House who is negotiating this treaty. Many of them will be in the priivate sector industries they just negotialte with in a short time.

              1. NAFTA did not result in huge trade deficits.


    2. I admit that I am ignorant of the TPP. Can anyone fill me in*.

      *No emotions, political allegiance, personal hatred of Obama, and no claims without evidence please.

      1. The poster you are responding to has no idea what they are talking about. And as usual for the crazies is claiming that the deal is for graft purposes.

        The TPP is a 12 nation trade agreement that supersedes NAFTA and naturally includes Canada and Mexico. It reduces tariffs and protects US IP from foreign thieves by using arbitration panels to resolve disputes between investors and states.

        1. Palin's Buttplug|5.11.15 @ 7:19PM|#
          The poster known as turd has no idea what they are talking about

        2. So Paul Krugman (who opposes it) is wrong then? Paul Krugman wrong? Isn't that blasphemous for you lefties, like calling Jesus a fag?

          Who's wrong, Obama or Krugman? Your head must be spinning. Which shade of blue is bluer?

      2. cfskyrim|5.11.15 @ 6:32PM|#
        "I admit that I am ignorant of the TPP. Can anyone fill me in"

        "Negotiations over the TPP have been shrouded in secrecy. Edward-Isaac Dovere gave the staggering details Monday: "If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you've got to be a member of Congress, and you've got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door.""
        Sorry, but the man's rep is such that I simply do not trust that TPP will be beneficial, regardless of my reference for free trade.

        1. I've yet to grasp why a bill can be passed in this country without the text of it being publicly available.

          1. Because turd says 'it's OK'? Because Obo says 'trust me'?
            Because Obo, congress and the general public have no idea what honesty means?
            Homple (below) has a point; there are folks here who are willing to support it based on Obo's claim that it promotes free trade (I'm ignoring turd, who would suck cyanide if Obo said 'it's good for you!')

          2. "The Most Transparent Administration in History" sure has a way of insisting its deals with foreign countries are shrouded in secrecy. And has presided over an era where ideas are increasingly sought to be insulated from criticism, at the point of demonizing those who are critical.

            I'm sure Hillary will also have another "Most Transparent Administration," once she finally decides that she will not 100% insulate herself from the press. I can hardly believe any candidate -- for President, no less -- can refuse to speak to the media and not be ripped to shreds. But such is the sorry state of political and intellectual and media life in 2015, where a presidential candidate can not only completely ignore the press, but find half a country willing to support her and cheer her on, regardless.

  4. Should we be concerned that we don't even know what this agreement is? I mean, what is in a name? Should we be excited about Obamacare being called the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, because who can be against affordable care and patients being protected?

    With this guy, I cannot fathom that he really understands what Free Trade is, and so I am definitely suspicious as to what this agreement really contains.

    1. Obama made doubling US exports and a 'pivot to Asia' his primary 2nd term objectives. Lay off the fat Rush.

      1. Palin's Buttplug|5.11.15 @ 7:29PM|#
        Obama made doubling US exports and a 'pivot to Asia' his primary 2nd term lie

      2. He also blamed Benghazi on a video so what's your point ?

        If you like your Doctor you can keep your Doctor. Period.

        How old were you when your father abandoned you ButtPlug ?

    1. So am I reading this correctly that the US has been 'sued' before such a body and lost?

      1. The US has never lost an ISDS dispute, you nimwit.

        1. Well, shitpile, I asked because I didn't know. But liars like you are not trustworthy.
          neoteny, can you answer that?

          1. neoteny, can you answer that?

            Well, after the NAFTA panel ruled in Canada's favor, the US and Canada entered an agreement in which the US paid back $4 billion of the $5.3 collected in tariffs. So it's hard to say that there was a single 'loser' to the dispute: the US had to cough up around 3/4th of the collected tariffs, while Canada had to live with the 1/4th of the tariff monies staying with the US. But I would think that the NAFTA panel ruling was a 'loss' to the US; without that, the US wouldn't have made a deal paying back that $4B.

          2. Sevo it was definately a loss if you were employed in the US timber industry.

            During the housing boom 90% of homes were built with Canadian lumber.

            The US timber industry was sucking air trying to compete with subsidized Canadian timber through those years. Lumber is a commodity and unike comsumer goods, price, not style or brand, determines the purchasing decision.

        2. Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a provision in Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) and other international investment agreements that allows investors to enter arbitration with states over treaty breaches.

          Foreign investment is only one aspect of foreign trade; and if Obama meant that the US is party to 50 BITs and never lost an ISDS dispute, he should have said so. Because that doesn't mean that the US never lost a trade dispute (under binding arbitration).

  5. Warren a titan???
    Is that like a some kind of Totem pole?

  6. Just as the phrase "he cares about me" suckers proggies into voting for someone who cares only for himself, the phrase "free trade" changes libertarians from skeptics of government into whoopers for a secret deal negotiated by the guy who swapped five major league terrorists for an army deserter.

    1. "the phrase "free trade" changes libertarians from skeptics of government into whoopers"

      Yeah, add the guy in question with his reputation for lying every time he opens his yap to 'secret deal' we don't want to tell you about, and there's a distinct 'low-tide' fragrance to this deal.

  7. I agree with Homple. Haven't we established that Obama is in it for Obama. He doesn't like the US..well the present US. He only does stuff to help his cronies. Sorry Buttplug you aren't one of them no matter how warn your knee pads are,

    This guy is the biggest narcissist around. So how does this help him and his friends?

    1. "Next thing I knew, my friend and another guy were face to face yelling at each other and next thing I knew punches were flying. I sort of faded into the crowd as some people gathered around the fight. I went outside."

      Similar to how being an ex-President helps Bill Clinton and his "charity" I suppose.

      We will only know who this helps the most when we see who pays the most and most often to hear him give speeches in his retirement.

      1. Sorry. That was a copy and paste reply to a different post. The original reply was that he and I had different definitions of frienship if he left as soon as his "friend" got into a fight.

        The last two lines were a response to the above post.

        But you all probably knew that.

  8. So one lefty icon supports more trade while another lefty icon opposes it? That will likely cause the heads of some of their followers to explode. I find these people, just like their ultra-partisan counterparts on the right, never actually think for themselves. They wait for their leaders to give them talking points that usually run contrary to any actual evidence (ex: "globalization causes poverty," "nuclear power if terrible for the environment") and then they parrot those talking points incessantly. If their respected thought leaders strongly disagree on a point, I expect to see smoke coming out of their ears, abruptly followed by their collapse into a coma.

    1. I'm a "lefty" that thinks for himself. Admittedly I don't know much about the TPP, but I do wonder why it has to remain a secret during any stage of the process, if that much is true. It only makes people very skeptical. I know you libertarians think that inequality is not a problem or that people will naturally do the right thing resulting in broader prosperity if we'd only get government completely out of the way but there are people that think that government can do things that help them and things that hurt them, and those people are wondering how tge TPP will effect them...and secrecy doesn't sit well with them. I'd say that's "reason"able.

  9. I'm actually not that bothered by the secrecy aspect. It will become public when it is voted on. It's the negotiations that are secret, and honestly that doesn't seem all that objectionable.

    Could the deal still be a carve out for crony's? Almost definitely. But that is a separate issue.

  10. Nathaniel . although Stephanie `s rep0rt is super... I just bought a top of the range Mercedes sincee geting a check for $4416 this last four weeks and would you believe, ten/k last-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the best-job I've ever done . I actually started seven months/ago and almost straight away started making a nice over $79.. p/h..... ?????? http://www.Jobs-Cash.com

  11. .

    Obama HATES women!

    Warren HATES blacks!

    Typical democrat hatred on full display.


  12. Methinks Barack Obama is picking a fight with heap big 1/32 American Indian. He needs to keep his guard up at all times.

  13. My objections are that hardly anyone in Congress has even read these bills, the contents of the bills are classified, and after it's passed the bill may be changed at any time without notice, by a stroke of the President's (whoever it happens to be) pen, with no need for Congressional approval. Oh yeah - and the decimation of the middle class that started with NAFTA - also a bipartisan initiative. In the new millennium, bipartisan just means you're getting screwed from both ends.

  14. Anything that liar wants will harm the American people.

  15. Give Obama credit? The TPP is not free trade; it is managed trade. And worse, it seeks to impose on other countries America's horrific and anti-market IP laws. The TPP is an abomination. Warren is against it for the wrong reasons, but it should be opposed.

  16. Nathaniel . although Stephanie `s rep0rt is super... I just bought a top of the range Mercedes sincee geting a check for $4416 this last four weeks and would you believe, ten/k last-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the best-job I've ever done . I actually started seven months/ago and almost straight away started making a nice over $79.. p/h..... ?????? http://www.Jobs-Cash.com

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