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Dem Infighting Heats Up Over Trade Deals

Democratic opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement struck back over the weekend at President Obama’s suggestion that they are either misinformed or dishonest.

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, two of the TPP’s leading opponents, sent the president a sharply worded letter Saturday taking issue with derisive comments he made on two separate occasions the day prior, according to HuffPost.

During an address to the progressive group Organizing for Action Friday, Obama defended the TPP against liberal objections, saying the deal has “strong provisions for workers, strong provisions for the environment … so when people say that this trade deal is bad for working families, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Although he did not mention any opponents by name, Obama’s comments were clearly directed at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with whom he has repeatedly sparred over the issue in public comments.

In a subsequent call with reporters Friday, The Washington Post claims that Obama further disparaged Warren and her allies, saying their oft-repeated complaints about a lack of transparency are “dishonest.” (RELATED: Obama Hammers Dems for Opposing Free Trade)

“The [criticism] that gets on my nerves the most is the notion that this is a ‘secret’ deal,” Obama said during the call. The real motivation for such claims, he contended, is to boost fundraising by spreading “misinformation that stirs up the base but doesn’t serve them well.”

Warren and Brown seem to take umbrage at that statement in their letter, saying, “We respectfully suggest that characterizing the assessments of labor unions, journalists, Members of Congress, and others who disagree with your approach to transparency on trade issues as ‘dishonest’ is both untrue and unlikely to serve the best interests of the American people.”

The TPP is a draft agreement among 12 Pacific countries — including the U.S., Japan, and Australia — that calls for eliminating tariffs and other trade barriers, as well as cooperating to create legal and regulatory coherence that would make trade more efficient. Republicans are largely on board with the deal, but many Democrats fear that TPP would lead to outsourcing of U.S. jobs to countries with lower labor standards.

In their letter, Warren and Brown argue that the American people deserve a chance to have an open debate on those issues, which can only happen if the details of the agreement are made public. (RELATED: Trade Bill Puts Boehner and Pelosi Between Barack and Their Parties)

“It is currently illegal for the press, experts, advocates, or the general public to review the text of this agreement,” they point out. “And while you [Obama] noted that Members of Congress may ‘walk over … and read the text of the agreement’—as we have done—you neglected to mention that we are prohibited by law from discussing the specifics of that text in public.”

While the general public is prohibited from seeing the deal, though, the senators indignantly note that, “executives of the country’s biggest corporations and their lobbyists have already had significant opportunities not only to read it, but to shape its terms” through advisory committees that are primarily composed of corporate representatives.

Warren and Brown also took issue with Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation, also known as “fast-tracking,” which would allow Obama to present the deal to Congress for an up-or-down vote with no opportunity for amendments. (RELATED: TPP Fast-Tracking is Designed to Hide a Bad Deal From Americans)

Not only would fast-tracking prevent Congress from modifying objectionable aspects of TPP, they warn, but it would apply to future deals, as well. Because TPA would remain in effect until 2021, it could “grease the skids for approval of any additional trade agreements that might be advanced through the next two presidencies.”

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