Toward the end of his vice presidency, Joe Biden was a prime player in the administration’s bid to win support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the failed trade deal that was supposed to be the crowning achievement of Barack Obama’s presidency-long “pivot to Asia.” Biden liked to hold up two maps of the Pacific region—one shaded in blue to show America’s influence in the region if the deal passed, and one shaded in red to show China’s growing influence if it didn’t.
“I think it’s very, very important to understand that the 20th-century rules of the road no longer exist, and new ones have to be written, and we should write them,” I heard him say in April 2015, to a gathering of the insistently moderate New Democrat Coalition at a hotel on the Chesapeake Bay. To other crowds, Biden and others in the administration would try to sell TPP as Obama’s trade deal, arguing that people should support it because they liked and trusted the president.
On the eve of the first presidential-primary debates, however, Biden’s 2020 campaign wouldn’t say whether he still supported the deal. He’s far from alone—Democratic candidates are quick to say they’d immediately rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement, both of which Obama helped put in place, but his TPP remains toxic. Even as Biden is running explicitly as a restoration of the Obama presidency, his campaign press secretary declined to comment on what his position is, other than to point to recent remarks the former vice president has made: that he opposes President Donald Trump’s trade war, and that he’d like higher labor standards in the revamped NAFTA agreement that the current administration is hoping to get approved by Congress. The campaign says more details on what he’d do on trade will be coming soon.