Sanders attacks Clinton's support for trade agreements

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Warren — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Saturday honed his criticism of rival Hillary Clinton’s support for “disastrous” international trade agreements in a speech seeking to appeal to Macomb County voters who work in the manufacturing industry.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to guests during a rally at Macomb Community College on March 5, 2016 in Warren, Michigan. Voters in Michigan will go to the polls on March 8 to vote in their state's primary.

Speaking at a Saturday night campaign rally at Macomb Community College, Sanders said Michigan has been “continually hard hit” by the country’s diminishing manufacturing production over a period of three decades following trade agreements with Mexico, China, South Korea and other countries with lower standards of living.

The Vermont senator sought to blame the resulting job losses on Clinton’s varied support for trade deals, dating back to the North American Free Trade Agreement forged by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

“I voted in complete opposition to every one of these disastrous trade agreements,” Sanders said. “Secretary Clinton voted for virtually all of them.”

Sanders acknowledged “trade is not a sexy issue.”

But the self-described democratic socialist sought to link free trade agreements to his overall campaign theme that the American economy is rigged in the favor of corporations and Wall Street banking interests that are friendlier to Clinton than him.

“Everybody who had half a brain understood what these trade agreements were about,” said Sanders, whose campaign has labeled Clinton “outsourcer-in-chief.”

Sanders’ criticism of Clinton on trade agreements is likely to play out Sunday night in their televised debate at The Whiting Auditorium in Flint.

“I thought he came out pretty strong on that tonight,” said Dennis Costello, 60, of Grosse Pointe, who attended the Sanders rally in Warren. “That’s what he has to do to differentiate himself with Hillary Clinton.”

But the Clinton campaign and her allies are pushing back.

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Saturday it’s unfair for Sanders to blame Hillary Clinton for trade deals favored by her husband and President Barack Obama.

NAFTA was a 1994 trade pact former President Bill Clinton forged in office. Hillary Clinton originally supported the concept of TPP as Obama’s Secretary of State, but came out against the deal last year as a candidate for president.

Sanders has insinuated Hillary Clinton shares in the blame for NAFTA and TPP as part of his larger campaign against corporate America and Wall Street banking interests in the Democratic presidential primaries.

In 2012, Clinton called the TPP trade pact linking the economies of countries from Canada to Chile and across the Pacific Ocean to Japan “the gold standard in trade agreements to open, free, transparent, fair trade,” according to published reports.

“It’s not really fair to ascribe NAFTA to her when it was her husband’s administration,” Granholm said in a telephone interview with The Detroit News. “And, of course, it’s not really fair to ascribe TPP to her when it was her boss’s administration. She can’t go against somebody who she worked for.”

As a U.S. senator from New York, Clinton voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) forged by Republican President George W. Bush’s administration.

“I think people have to be fair about looking at how she acted when she was on her own,” said Granholm, who is supporting Clinton’s candidacy.

On Thursday, Sanders highlighted trade policy at a press confernece in Lansing.

“On the issue of trade, Secretary Clinton’s views and mine are very different,” Sanders said. “She has supported NAFTA, I opposed it. She supported permanent normal trade relations with China, I vigorously opposed the (permanent trade) with China. She supported permanent normal trade relations with Vietnam, I opposed that.”

“She supported the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. I opposed that. And she supported the Korean Free Trade Agreement. I opposed that.”

After Sanders made those remarks Thursday morning, the Clinton campaign hastily organized a media conference with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Clinton’s policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, to highlight her policy proposals for aiding the manufacturing sector. Sullivan said Sanders has no such plan.

“In his years in Congress, he has been AWOL when it comes to putting forward proposals that would help lift up American manufacturers,” Sullivan told reporters.

Granholm said Sanders’ general opposition to trade agreements and advocacy for nationwide infrastructure improvements falls short of being a substantive plan to create middle class jobs.

“The job creation piece … is one of the ways you address income inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class,” Granholm said. “She’s got a comprehensive strategy to do that.”

Clinton’s job creation plan includes tax incentives to spur manufacturing job creation in cities hardest hit by economic decline and new tariffs to combat currency manipulation by other countries, particularly China. Clinton also wants to slap companies that relocate their headquarters overseas for tax purposes with an exit tax to discourage the practice.

“His job strategy really focuses on infrastructure, which is really important, and she focuses on infrastructure also,” Granholm said. “But just trade and infrastructure is not as comprehensive as hers and that to me is a big difference.”

Clinton and Sanders will square off at 8 p.m. Sunday on CNN in the seventh Democratic presidential candidate debate of this primary season, two days before Michigan Democrats go to the polls in Tuesday’s primary.

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