Hillary Clinton cites differences with husband on trade

April 9, 2008 11:46:23 AM PDT
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday she has a long record of differing with her husband on trade policies, a critical issue as she and Sen. Barack Obama pursue Democratic voters who fault international deals for U.S. job losses. The New York senator said she will do all she can to defeat the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, now before Congress, even though her husband and her recently demoted chief strategist Mark Penn have worked for it.

Bill Clinton, who championed deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement during his presidency, pushed Democrats to be more open to low barriers to trade. But many labor union leaders and others blame such pacts for job losses, and Obama and Hillary Clinton have criticized them in their bid for blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Pennsylvania holds its primary April 22, and it is a must win for Clinton who trails Obama in delegates and votes.

"I have a long record of being on a different attitude toward trade than my husband does," the New York senator told reporters after speaking at a high school near Pittsburgh. "I don't think any married couple I know agrees on everything. And we disagree on this."

Asked if she has discussed the Colombia trade proposal with her husband, Clinton replied, "Oh, we talk about everything."

She said she opposes the plan, which President Bush supports, "because of the history of suppression and targeted killings of labor organizers in Colombia."

A high point of Bill Clinton's presidency was passage of NAFTA, which his wife now criticizes at virtually every campaign stop. White House records show that as first lady Hillary Clinton attended several meetings designed to build congressional support for NAFTA in the early 1990s. She says she had reservations about the pact at the time, and made her feelings known in such gatherings.

At the news conference Wednesday, Clinton offered no other examples on where she and her husband disagree.

Obama noted his opposition to the Colombia deal Tuesday when he spoke to the Communications Workers of America. He said he opposes the treaty "because when organizing workers puts an organizer's life at risk, as it does in Colombia, it makes a mockery of our labor protections."

Clinton said "a number of people" who served in her husband's administration "have publicly stated that I opposed NAFTA" even as her husband was working for its passage. Obama's campaign challenges the claim, pointing to White House records of pro-NAFTA meetings she attended as first lady.

Some labor leaders have urged Clinton to sever all ties with Penn, who was her chief campaign strategist until she demoted him because of his work on behalf of the Colombian government, which wants the trade agreement. Colombia was a client of Penn's large public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller.

Clinton said Wednesday that Penn continues to advise the campaign, but in a lesser role.

As president, Bill Clinton's support of trade agreements with Mexico, Canada, China and other nations often put him at odds with fellow Democrats and labor leaders who backed a more protectionist approach. Trade has been part of his post-presidential work.

In 2005, the former president was paid $800,000 by Gold Service International, a Bogota-based business development group, for four days of appearances in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. The group supports, among other things, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.


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