Trans-Pacific Partnership: Why so secret?

The 12 Nation 40% of the World GDP TransPacific Partnership (TPP) being sought by the Obama Administration as a “legacy defining” achievement is being assailed from all directions by opponents and activists. One aspect of it that has been universally criticized, from Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Jeff Sessions to the AFL-CIO labor union to former Clinton adviser Dick Morris, is the “extreme secrecy” under which the details of the trade pact are being kept.

If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you’ve got to be a member of Congress, and you’ve got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door.

If you’re a member who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving.

And no matter what, you can’t discuss the details of what you’ve read.

The Administration, for its part, has been encouraging members of congress to meet with US Trade Representative Mike Froman, who is the main negotiator of the deal. Feedback of this process has been mixed, with Rep. Brad Sherman saying “He’s incredibly condescending. It’s like, ‘You’d be all for this if only you hadn’t gotten an F in economics,’” while Rep. Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, has praised Froman’s efforts.

A great deal of effort is being expended in manufacturing support for “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority for the Obama Administration to negotiate the TPP and give congress only an up-or-down vote on the final version. It seems that almost every cabinet level secretary is lobbying some constituency trying to garner votes.

Obama has started to get more personally engaged trying to shore up support for the deal. The president hosted a White House meeting Thursday with members of the New Democrat Coalition, who are generally inclined to support him on trade but still pressed him to make more information available.

He emphasized that under the trade promotion bills, this is going to be the most transparent bill ever,” said Kind, who attended.

Two days earlier, speaking at the news conference he held in the Rose Garden with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama dismissed “this whole notion that it’s all secret.”

“They’re going to have 60 days before I even sign it to look at the text, and then a number of months after that before they have to take a final vote,” Obama said forcefully.

“He’s indignant when we say it’s secret,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). “Maybe there’s some definition of secrecy he knows that I don’t know.”

What evidence exists to suggest that President Obama and his team are particularly good negotiators? Five Taliban for one deserter? The Iran Nuclear Deal? The amazingly smooth workings of Capital Hill?

It is hard to square the circle of how, given Fast Track Authority, the currently classified details of the TPP would suddenly leap into becoming “the most transparent bill ever”. This is all coming from the President who promised the “Most Transparent Administration Ever”, who promised an open door and televised Obamacare negotiation process, and ultimately, who promised the below on June 15, 2009:

“I know that there are millions of Americans who are content with their health care coverage — they like their plan and, most importantly, they value their relationship with their doctor. They trust you. And that means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.

The above statement was not qualified by any caveats, nor is it possible that it is taken out of any context. So the American Public has a right to be suspicious. For President Obama to continue to push this trade pact, completely secret from the American Public, is an amazingly brazen and tone-deaf exercise, completely in keeping with the popular perception that Obama is a malignant narcissist who thinks he is better than the common man–especially those who will have to live with the consequences of the TPP.