DES MOINES, Iowa — Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that President Barack Obama should use a setback in Congress to seek the best possible trade agreement with 11 other Pacific Rim nations, pointing to the stumbles over the pact as an opportunity to address Democrats' concerns about job protections and wages.
"Let's take the lemons and turn it into lemonade," Clinton told more than 700 supporters at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, addressing the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership trade proposal that has splintered Obama from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and rank-and-file Democrats.
Courting Iowa voters, Clinton sought to address Democratic opponents of the trade legislation, including liberals and labor unions, who have said the Obama-backed plan will cost U.S. jobs. The agreement has not been finalized or submitted to Congress.
"The president should listen to and work with his allies in Congress, starting with Nancy Pelosi, who had expressed their concerns about the impact that a weak agreement would have on our workers to make sure we get the best strongest deal possible," Clinton said. "And if we don't get it, there should be no deal."
The White House and Republican leaders in Congress now face long odds in reviving the legislation after congressional Democrats helped defeat a job retraining program in a blow to Obama's attempt to secure so-called fast track authority. Without the authority to negotiate trade deals that Congress can approve or reject, but not amend, the president would face difficulty in securing the Asia trade deal after years of work.
Pelosi decided to side with House Democrats and oppose Obama's plan, saying it required "a better deal for America's workers."
Clinton appeared to seek middle ground, saying while some support the deal and others vehemently oppose it, "I kind of fall in the group that says 'what's in it?' And 'let's make it as good as it can be, and then let's make a decision.'" She said Obama had an "amazing opportunity" to negotiate better terms that included worker protections, wages and national security provisions that she said she would seek in a final deal.
Clinton said any deal should include the scuttled program to help retrain workers.
Trade has emerged as an early divider within the Democratic primary. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was campaigning in Iowa on Sunday, again called on Clinton to oppose the measure.
"It is a failed trade policy, and I would hope that the secretary joins (Massachusetts Sen.) Elizabeth Warren, and the vast majority of Democrats in the Congress in saying, 'No, we've got to defeat this piece of legislation,'" Sanders said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has also opposed the deal and likened it to the North American Free Trade Agreement signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. In a statement that did not mention Hillary Clinton by name, O'Malley said Democratic leaders should "step up and urge Congress not to fast track this bad trade deal. We've seen this movie before with NAFTA — a bad trade deal that devastated communities across the country and cost a million American jobs."
The Obama administration expressed confidence Sunday that Congress will approve the trade provisions. Republican leaders generally support Obama's proposal and have suggested they may try to revive the bill as early as this week. "Republicans delivered," said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on "Fox News Sunday." ''The question is, are the Democrats going to do this to their president."
While Clinton has refused to take a position on TPP since announcing her candidacy, she called the pact the "gold standard" of trade agreements while serving as secretary of state. Criticism came quickly on Sunday from Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short.
"By waffling on a trade deal she helped negotiate and once called a "gold standard," Hillary Clinton continues to show why voters overwhelmingly see her as dishonest and untrustworthy," Short said in a statement.
Clinton was spending most of the weekend in Iowa after formally launching her campaign in New York City, seeking to build an organizational edge in the state that tripped up her first presidential campaign against Obama. Sanders was campaigning across the state and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who is exploring a potential Democratic bid, also was holding events in Iowa on Sunday. O'Malley held a day's events in the state last week.
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