The Trans-Pacific Partnership may be the issue that causes a rift in the Democratic Party. A separation between moderate traditionalists and populist progressives seems to have been growing over the past several years, but this trade agreement has caused many progressive-leaning Democrats to speak out against the White House’s questionable policies. At the forefront of the ideological battle are two key names: President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Warren has adamantly and outspokenly opposed Congress approving a “fast track” bill that would allow Obama to pass a major trade agreement among 12 Pacific countries. Warren remains skeptical of the lack of transparency surrounding the bill, which she claims might have hidden provisions that “could help multinational corporations ship American jobs overseas or allow for watering down of environmental or labor rules.” The inability of Congress or the American public to view the deal before it is approved makes it impossible for Congress to amend or fix it. Once the deal goes through, Warren argues, there will be no turning back — even if the legislation hurts the American people and economy.
The Obama administration has remained firm on its belief in the trade deal, which the president claims “fixes a lot of the problems that you had in things like NAFTA.” He also referred to it as “the most progressive framework for trade we have ever had.” In response to Warren’s opposition to the legislation, he had a simple response: “I love Elizabeth. We’re allies on a whole host of issues, but she’s wrong on this.”
Obama and Warren’s public argument represents the two new sides of the Democratic Party. Much like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and other Tea Party conservatives have riled the libertarian-leaning segment of the Republican Party over the past several years, Warren’s progressive views are pushing many Democrats further to the left. Voters seem to be moving away from moderate leaders like Obama and Clinton, opting instead to rally around Warren’s anti-Wall Street ideals. Other Democrats stand in solidarity with Warren and against Obama on the issue of the TPP. “I have never, ever … supported a trade agreement, and I’m not going to start now,” said Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, according to NPR. “So the answer is not only no, but hell no.”
The word populist is often mentioned alongside Warren’s name, so it’s no surprise that she’s managed to foster such a passionate group of followers. There is a strong movement calling for Warren to run for president in 2016, but she has repeatedly denied that she is even considering entering the race. Warren herself has supported the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, whose “Ready for Boldness” campaign essentially pushes for Clinton or the eventual Democratic candidate to embrace a Warren-like economic platform in 2016.
Clinton has already been trying to frame herself as populist throughout her brief campaign thus far, but she will inevitably have a difficult time proving that she’s not a member of the country’s traditionalist elite. Obama is already too progressive by many conservative standards, but the fact that so many Democrats are using the TPP as an example of his moderate politics and Wall Street-friendly tendencies shows that Warren’s movement is growing stronger. Even if Warren herself won’t heed the public’s call to run, it will be interesting to see how populism (and Tea Party conservatism) plays in to the 2016 presidential race.
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