AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued an ultimatum Tuesday, stating that all presidential candidates seeking organized labor's help, including Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, needed to come out in opposition to Trade Promotion Authority. Labor groups oppose the legislation, also known as "Fast Track" because it would make it easier for the White House to pass major trade deals through Congress.
"The labor movement opposes Fast Track. We expect those who seek to lead our nation forward to oppose Fast Track. There is no middle ground, and the time for deliberations is drawing to a close. In the 2016 campaign, there will be no place to hide for those who aspire to lead America," Trumka said in a speech at the AFL-CIO's Washington D.C. headquarters.
Asked after the speech if he was calling on Clinton to issue a clear statement on Fast Track, Trumka told the Washington Examiner, he was referring to "all candidates." He added later that Clinton "would have to respond like every candidate."
Clinton has not stated a clear position on the legislation, which would prohibit Congress from amending trade bills, limiting it to a strict up or down vote on passage.
Lawmakers introduced a bipartisan version earlier this month with strong support from the White House. Fast Track's passage is widely seen as crucial to also passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major 12-nation trade deal. The Democratic Party's liberal wing are opposed to both, however, and are being supported by numerous liberal groups, especially organized labor and environmentalists.
Clinton has a complicated history with Fast Track legislation. Bill Clinton used a version of it to help secure passage of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement in 1994 but she voted against renewing it in 2002 when she was a New York senator.
Coming out in opposition of Fast Track would put Clinton at odds with the both administration she served in as first lady and the one where she served as the top official on international relations. Supporting Fast Track would put her at odds with much of the party's base as she tries to lock down the party's presidential nomination with a minimum of drama.
Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill issued a statement on April 17 outlining the candidate's trade policy in general. While generally skeptical of trade, it did not comment on Fast Track itself, leaving open the possibility that she could support it and other deals.
"Hillary Clinton believes that any new trade measure has to pass two tests. First, it should put us in a position to protect American workers, raise wages and create more good jobs at home. Second, it must also strengthen our national security. We should be willing to walk away from any outcome that falls short of these tests. The goal is greater prosperity and security for American families, not trade for trade's sake. She will be watching closely to see what is being done to crack down on currency manipulation, improve labor rights, protect the environment and health, promote transparency, and open new opportunities for our small businesses to export overseas. As she warned in her book, Hard Choices, we shouldn't be giving special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers," Merrill said.
Democrats on both sides of the debate have mostly shied away from calling on Clinton to stake out a position, but some like Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a trade critic, have called on her to join in the debate.