Escalating the fight with his own liberal base, President Barack Obama, in an interview posted online on Saturday, took on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a champion of the left by suggesting that she was motivated by politics in her battle against his proposed Pacific trade accord.
Obama said that some of Warren’s warnings about the potential damage of the trade deal were nothing more than the “hypotheticals” of a law-school professor and were, at their root, “absolutely wrong.”
“The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else,” Obama told Matt Bai of Yahoo News in an interview conducted Friday at Nike’s headquarters near Beaverton, Ore. “And, you know, she’s got a voice that she wants to get out there, and I understand that. And on most issues she and I deeply agree. On this one, though, her arguments don’t stand the test of fact and scrutiny.”
The president’s rebuttal of Warren, D-Mass., who came to national prominence in part through her work with the Obama administration, underscored the schism within the Democratic Party over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade deal. Warren, a former Harvard law professor, has become an outspoken leader of those Democrats who argue that the agreement would cost American jobs.
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Obama’s comments came after he delivered a speech at the Nike headquarters in which he lashed out at liberal critics of the agreement, arguing that they were fighting an old fight, even though he was negotiating what he called the most progressive trade deal in history.
He seemed most irritated at Warren’s suggestion that the trade pact could be used as an excuse by a future president to undercut the financial overhaul Obama signed in 2010 in response to the Wall Street excesses that led to the recession.
“She’s absolutely wrong,” Obama said in the interview. “Think about the logic of that, right? The notion that I had this massive fight with Wall Street to make sure that we don’t repeat what happened in 2007, 2008, and then I sign a provision that would unravel it?” He added, “I’d have to be pretty stupid.”
Obama said liberal opponents of his trade deal were living in the past. “Their arguments are based on fear,” he said, “or they’re fighting NAFTA, the trade deal that was passed 25 years ago, or 20 years ago.”
He added: “I understand the emotions behind it. But when you break down the logic of their arguments, I’ve got to say there’s not much there.”
The president’s criticism of Warren in particular has irritated some of her allies. Ralph Nader, the longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate, said Saturday that rather than attack from a distance, the president ought to debate Warren in person, much as Al Gore, then the vice president, did with Ross Perot over NAFTA in 1993.
“A president can get away with his soliloquies when he stays on his throne,” Nader said by telephone. But if he is going to go after critics of trade deals, he said, “then I think he is obligated to engage in a public debate that will inform the American people.”