Let’s start the work week with mention of an issue that pits Barack Obama and Ted Cruz against Elizabeth Warren and Mike Huckabee. That would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The TPP is the huge free trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries that faces a crucial vote in the U.S. Senate this week. The vote in question is not on the TPP itself, but on granting “trade promotion authority” (also called “fast track authority”) to President Obama to negotiate the finer points of the agreement for purposes of handing Congress an up-or-down vote on the final deal.


The odd thing is that while many Republicans want to give Obama such powers, Democrats are balking. That’s because the TPP is fundamentally a creature of big business; it’s opposed by many labor and environmental groups, as well as organizations concerned about its effects on development and public health in poorer nations.

Trade deals are complicated, with lots of winners and lots of losers. I won’t get deep into the arguments for and against the TPP here — and there are many — but I will say I’m immediately skeptical of any global trade deal negotiated by the U.S. Trade Representative simply because of its track record. The majority of free trade agreements in recent decades (such as NAFTA and CAFTA-DR) have eroded the bargaining position of workers at home and abroad and diminished the ability of governments to protect public health, labor, the environment and the rule of law itself.


That’s why Sen. Warren, the clarion voice of the left, has said that the TPP as currently written would “tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.”

But although most of the presumptive Republican presidential candidates — Cruz included — are on board with expanding Obama’s dictatorial reach whenever it serves the interests of the Chamber of Commerce to do so, Mike Huckabee recently told NBC that he is not. According to Politico:


“When there’s cronies involved and getting a special deal and when other countries are cheating and Americans lose jobs,” Huckabee said, “I’d like to think the U.S. government would stand up for the U.S. workers rather than let them take it in the backside and somehow just have to tough it out.”

The former governor said that he does not support giving the president authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement without new congressional amendments or the threat of a filibuster.

This is part and parcel of Huckabee’s much-discussed “populism” on economic issues. While we’ve got plenty of reasons to look cynically upon such positioning coming from the former governor, it’s still interesting stuff in today’s GOP.

Here’s more worthy reading from Slate on the strange bedfellows created by the trade issue, and on how some lefty activists are using the same rhetoric as the Tea Party in opposing the TPP:

After years of ridiculing the Tea Party movement’s talk of Obama as an autocrat on issues such as immigration and health care, the left is now pushing those very buttons on trade, noting that fast track would give Obama vast powers and that the TPP would create a new international arbitration panel where corporations could challenge local, state, and national laws. … Essentially, the left is saying to conservative Republicans: If you’re worried about executive overreach and global governance, then you really had better get upset about fast track and TPP.

Among Arkansas’s congressional delegation, Sen. John Boozman has said he supports granting the president trade promotion authority. To my knowledge, Sen. Tom Cotton hasn’t said clearly one way or the other whether he plans to vote for giving Obama fast-track authority.