Clinton can’t waffle on trade deal forever

To paraphrase Joe Louis, Hillary Clinton can run but she can’t hide from the great trade debate that pits President Barack Obama and a handful of free-trade Democrats against Sen. Elizabeth Warren and most of the party in Congress.

Topic A is the emerging Trans-Pacific Partnership, a huge trade deal that would bind the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries.

As the formidable front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton has raised a few critical questions about TPP, but avoided any specific stance.

The conventional wisdom is that she'll oppose any trade pact to stay in sync with the vast majority of Democrats. But in an interview Tuesday on the Charlie Rose television program, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, formerly a top Chicago business executive and major player in Democratic politics, predicted Clinton ultimately would support the deal.

Emphasizing that TPP is “good for jobs” – which its critics dispute – Pritzker said “that’s something that I know Hillary, in the end, will come to recognize.” She added that the deal is important “to our presence in Asia,” noting that “Secretary of State Clinton was part of the Obama administration’s rebalance to Asia.”

If Clinton heeds the advice of those she usually listens to on policy, Pritzker may be right.

But if she listens to political operatives she may go the other way. Trade deals are very unpopular with Democratic constituencies, and Warren, who commands a big following, is leading the charge against TPP. She is joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, another declared Democratic presidential candidate, who has been suggesting that TPP may be a defining difference with Clinton.