February 6, 2014


Obama's Moment of Truth on Trade : Bill Clinton bucked his own party to get Nafta. Will this president do the same to get agreements with Europe and Asia? (WILLIAM A. GALSTON, Feb. 4, 2014, WSJ)

In September 1991, I found myself in a windowless Washington hotel room helping to plan Bill Clinton's presidential campaign. A key question for the group that had gathered was whether the as-yet-undeclared candidate should support the North American Free Trade Agreement that incumbent president George H.W. Bush had negotiated. After considerable discussion of Nafta, Mr. Clinton looked up at us and said, "I want y'all to understand something: I'm not going to run as an isolationist, and I'm not going to run as a protectionist."

That ended the debate--for a while. It started up again not long after he entered the Oval Office, among congressional Democrats and within the White House. In August 1993, President Clinton ended the internal debate by delivering a ringing defense of Nafta and appointing William Daley to spearhead the drive for its ratification.

Although House Speaker Tom Foley supported the treaty, he said that in view of divisions within his caucus, the Democratic leadership would take no position. Within two weeks, House Democratic Whip David Bonior had become the floor leader of the Nafta opposition. A few weeks later, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt announced that he too was opposed, a decision widely regarded as the death knell for the treaty.

That was Mr. Clinton's moment of truth, and he did not flinch. After an all-out White House push in which the president participated extensively, the House approved Nafta, voting 234-200. Democrats were deeply divided: While 102 voted in favor, 156 opposed the treaty. With the support of a bare majority of Democrats, Nafta passed easily in the Senate.

With Harry Reid's blunt rebuke last week, Barack Obama's moment of truth has arrived. 

Posted by at February 6, 2014 7:25 PM

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