Clinton Finally Talks Trade, But Leaves Herself Plenty Of Room To Run

The Democratic frontrunner said President Obama should "˜listen to' Nancy Pelosi, who at least temporarily derailed Obama's trade agenda last week.

Hillary Clinton launches her presidential campaign at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island June 13, 2015 in New York. (National Journal)

Hillary Clinton said Sunday that a pending trade pact with Asia-Pacific nations should be altered to include more protections for American workers, seemingly siding for now with liberal House Democrats who put roadblocks in front of President Obama's trade agenda last week.

"In order to get a deal that meets these high standards, the president should listen to and work with his allies in Congress—starting with Nancy Pelosi—who have expressed their concerns about the impact that a weak agreement would have on our workers, to make sure we get the best, strongest deal possible," Clinton said at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, according to CNN and other outlets.

"And if we don't get it, there should be no deal," she said.

Last week, Pelosi, the top House Democrat, played a key role in derailing legislation that would give the White House "fast-track" powers to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other future trade agreements through Congress on an up-or-down vote without amendment.

Clinton, visiting the state that hosts the first nominating contest, also said there are "some specifics in there that could and should be changed," adding, "let's take the lemons and turn it into lemonade."

She said Obama now has an "amazing opportunity" to negotiate better terms in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, according to the Associated Press.

But Clinton, who has been under pressure to clarify her stance, left herself plenty of wiggle room on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and fast-track trade authority.

While nodding left, Clinton's reported comments leave her room to maneuver politically on the trade pact that labor unions and environmentalists bitterly oppose. And according to press reports, Clinton did not explicitly say where she stands on granting fast-track powers that progressives similarly dislike.

Look for Clinton, who "officially" launched her ongoing campaign with a speech in New York City on Saturday, to face continued pressure from the left to take a harder stance on trade.

"We still need her to come out and specifically say Congress needs to see the full text of TPP and have ample time to review it before there is an actual vote on TPA," CREDO Action's Murshed Zaheed told MSNBC, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and trade promotion authority, the formal name for fast-track.

Clinton's remarks came just hours after several surrogates for the former senator and secretary of State deflected journalists' push for details about her trade stance and whether she backs fast-track. The House is slated to take up the fast-track battle again in coming days.

Karen Finney, a Clinton communications adviser and spokesperson, sought to focus a Fox News Sunday interview on how Clinton will size up the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other deals, saying they must protect and aid workers and affect national security interests.

But despite pressure to weigh in—rival candidate Bernie Sanders recently said Clinton should weigh in on trade "right now," and progressives are getting increasingly frustrated by her hesitance to do so—Finney held firm in refusing to give an indication of where Clinton stands on the fast-track powers vital to getting the Asian trade deal through, saying that Clinton is "focused on the specifics" of what would be in a final deal.

Joel Benenson, a Clinton campaign strategist, pushed back against the notion that Clinton has not provided a firm position on trade.

"Secretary Clinton has been very clear that what matters is what's in the final deal. And there is no final trade pact yet," he said on ABC's This Week. "There's a lot of congressional jockeying going on right now over things like TAA and TPP, acronyms that no voter understands." When asked directly by host George Stephanopoulos if Clinton believes Obama should have fast-track authority, Benenson brushed off the question as "Washington inside baseball."

On Meet the Press, John Podesta, chair of Clinton's campaign, repeated the line that Clinton has been "very clear about where she stands on trade" without saying anything more on how she currently views the fast-track or general trade fight in the House. When the trade agreement is final, Podesta said, "she'll render a judgement."

Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook continued the message on CBS' Face the Nation. Mook, insisting Clinton hasn't "been on the sidelines" of the trade debate, said the candidate has been "abundantly clear" about where she stands on trade.

Mook stated the same general principles that were mentioned by Clinton advisers on other Sunday broadcasts: Any trade deal must support American jobs, increase wages for American workers, and protect American national security interests. As for the fight happening on the Hill now, Mook brushed that off as a battle over "procedures and parliamentary this and that."

More "this and that" is set to come in the next several days in an attempt at salvaging Obama's and Republicans' push for fast-track power that foundered last week when many House Democrats rebuffed the president.

The House likely will vote again this week on legislation that aims to provide aid to workers displaced by global trade.

That trade assistance bill, which is tethered to the fast-track plan, went down last week despite Obama's in-person plea to Democrats, who voted against the measure as a lever to derail the fast-track trade powers that unions and green groups bitterly oppose.

The underlying fast-track bill passed in a close vote on Friday, but because of the way the measure has been negotiated, trade adjustment assistance also must cross the finish line. Fast-track ensures up-or-down votes on future trade deals with no amendments.

GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, a leader of House efforts to get fast-track through, did not offer any hints of the strategy for rescuing the trade assistance deal when he appeared on Fox News Sunday.

He put the onus on Democrats.

"The president has a lot of work to do with his own party to turn this around, to salvage this," Ryan said. But he added: "I am optimistic. I think this can be salvaged." He also took a jab at Clinton over her refusal to weigh in.

"Pick a position. That's what leaders do," Ryan said.

This story has been updated to reflect new comments from Hillary Clinton.