WASHINGTON – Senator Elizabeth Warren, as she ratchets up her fight against President Obama over a proposed international trade deal, is focusing sharply on secrecy and business influence surrounding the pact.
The Massachusetts Democrat and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, in a harsh letter to Obama this weekend, accused the president of negotiating the accord with heavy input from corporate interests and lobbyists -- while keeping the American public in the dark.
The salvo escalates a simmering dispute that turned public last week when Obama began openly feuding with Warren about her criticism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive 12-nation deal that would encompass 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
Warren and Brown said in their letter that Obama’s administration has “kept [the deal] hidden from public view,” while “executives of the country’s biggest corporations and their lobbyists already have had significant opportunities not only to read it, but to shape its terms.” They demanded he “promptly declassify” details of the draft.
The senators, who have both viewed the agreement’s text, said Obama failed to tell the public that lawmakers are barred from discussing its specifics.
“The American people should be allowed to see for themselves whether it’s a good deal for them,” they said.
Their attack follows comments Obama made Friday that labeled critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership “dishonest” and inaccurate in their representation of the trade agreement the president has made a cornerstone of his agenda. The letter reveals a fierce divide within the Democratic Party over one of the world’s most significant trade accords. It’s one that pits Republicans and Obama against pro-union Democrats.
The senators called his remarks “untrue,” and focused much of their outrage on attempts to push the deal through more quickly.
Obama has ramped up his pitch in recent days as the Senate prepares to vote on a bill that would “fast-track” trade pacts like the Pacific one. This would allow Congress to vote on the deal but prohibit members from amending it. The administration fears lawmakers would otherwise shred international accords that took years to negotiate.
“What I am averse to is a bunch of ad hominem attacks and misinformation that stirs up the base but ultimately doesn’t serve them well,” he said Friday on a conference all. “And I’m going to be pushing back very hard if I keep hearing that stuff.”
The tension between Obama and Warren is hardly new. She fought the White House – and won -- earlier this year on the nomination of Antonio Weiss, a Wall Street investment banker, for a key Treasury Department post. (He withdrew his nomination and took another position in the department that did not require a confirmation vote.)
And she nearly upended an administration-backed bill in December to avert a government shutdown. Warren objected to a provision she believed would weaken financial regulations.
“We write in the hope that we can work together to open up this process to the American people,” they said ``and to achieve your goal of letting them judge the facts for themselves.”