Boehner, campaign finance, Darrell Issa, fast track, Im-Politic, Immigration, Iran, Jeb Bush, Obama, Paul Ryan, TPA, Trade, Trade Promotion Authority, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP
That’s some stunningly contradictory message leading Republicans have been sending lately regarding President Obama’s negotiating skills. On the one hand, they portray him as a bumbling naif on issues like normalizing ties with Cuba and eliminating the Iran nuclear weapons threat. And on the other hand, they’re happy to grant him sweeping Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to negotiate history’s biggest trade agreements.
This incoherence was most recently displayed by likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush. The former Florida governor told the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that the Obama Cuba diplomacy that began to reestablish diplomatic and economic relations amounted to “bad negotiations.”
According to Bush, “[W]e got nothing in return. We traded a guy who was held hostage, Alan Gross, an aid worker for no reason. He was allowed in the country, he was held hostage and he was languishing in prison, and, in fact, his wife believed that if he stayed much longer, he was going to die, for spies that were convicted in our American judicial system.
“That was not an equal trade. We opened up additional mounts of travel, so many of you may have gone as — like, I say in quotes, education trips. And now that those have been expanded the president has that authority to do so. And nothing in return.”
Yet in the same speech, Bush endorsed the president’s request for a near-blank check from Congress to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and any other agreements he – and possible Democratic successors – might pursue over the next five years.
The disconnect arguably is wider on Iran. House Speaker John Boehner is so worried that President Obama will ultimately cave in and accept an agreement that will enable Iran to develop nuclear weapons that he’s bent Washington protocol and created a firestorm by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to address Congress to warn against such appeasement. Moreover, speaking about Mr. Obama’s executive action on immigration, Boehner has declared, “There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our law.” Yet Boehner’s only criticism of the president’s trade policies is that Mr. Obama hasn’t worked hard enough to win Democrats’ support.
Regarding Iran, Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan emphatically agrees with Boehner. The Ways and Means Chair has insisted that “The president’s policies with Iran have bipartisan concern. A huge bipartisan majority in both the House and the Senate are very worried about the handling of these negotiations.” But he’s tried to justify his enthusiasm for “fast tracking” Mr. Obama’s trade deals through Congress by insisting that “I am not saying to enhance our leverage we have to enhance the administration’s power—far from it. What I’m saying is this bill would enhance Congress’s power. TPA empowers Congress.” What Ryan has not explained is why he thinks the president is more likely to follow the law on trade than he’s been on immigration.
But at least Ryan doesn’t descend into the outright schizophrenia displayed by Rep. Darrell Issa. The California Republican, a fierce Obama critic, told the Washington Post, “This president has earned our distrust, but having said that, I still support TPA. I still want to have the trade team be able to go forward and make good offers.”
One explanation for these seeming inconsistencies may be these Republicans’ belief that bad trade deals are much less likely to damage important U.S. interests than are bad national security deals – though that will be a tricky argument to make during an economic recovery with which few Americans are happy. Or maybe most Republican leaders think that, although President Obama’s terrible instincts on economics become excellent once matters go international? That’s a contention that looks too clever by half.
Instead, these clashing Republican positions seem best explained by the role of Big Money in politics. America’s offshoring lobby has told these lawmakers to jump. And their only uncertainty is “How high?”