In reporting my story today on Rep. Mike Honda’s declaration of candidacy for a ninth term, I tried to contrast his position on the trade package that House Democrats sank last week with that of Ro Khanna, his Democratic challenger.
But Khanna – a former Obama administration Commerce Department official – isn’t making that easy.
Honda last Friday joined most Democrats in voting against the trade package for which President Obama and Republican leaders had pushed hard. The “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority bill “did not include a voice for working families” and limits Congress’ power to represent labor, business and environmental interests, he said in a statement issued Friday, while the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill was underfunded, “ignores public sector workers, and is propped up on the back of continued cuts to Medicare.”
Khanna was out of town Tuesday, but I asked him and his acting campaign manager, Brian Parvizshahi, to provide me a succinct summation of how he would’ve voted on the bills.
“Ro agrees with Secretary Hillary Clinton’s recent, thoughtful comments on the issue,” Parvizshahi replied by email. “He agrees with her that we need to increase TAA funding and fight for a fully funded highway bill to find a way forward.”
Yet Clinton – who supported TPA while serving as Secretary of State – has been very cagey in what she says about it now, as frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
At a campaign rally Sunday in Iowa, Clinton spoke more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a trade deal with 11 other Pacific Rim nations – than about the TPA and TAA bills that would let the Obama Administration finish negotiating it. She urged President Obama to listen to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats and make changes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that reflect their concerns about protecting American jobs and wages.
“She declined to take sides on the Friday vote itself but instead allied herself with Democratic critics of the deal — without actually opposing it,” the New York Times reported.
And CNN reported Monday that Clinton in New Hampshire had once again declined to say whether she thinks Obama should have authority to fast-track the Pacific trade deal through Congress without amendments. She dismissed the fight over that legislation, known as trade promotion authority, as “a process issue.”
Of course, as president Clinton would stand in Obama’s shoes, not those of Congress. But Khanna wants to fill congressional shoes, and only 3.6 percentage points in November prevented him from being part of Friday’s roll calls. It would be nice to know, definitively, how he would have voted.
Larry Gerston, a San Jose State University professor emeritus and political expert who closely watched the 2014 Honda-Khanna showdown, said Honda seems to be poised to make a case to voters for why the trade package would have cost jobs in the 17th Congressional District. For Khanna to make a different case “would be a large contrast,” Gerston said.