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Opinion

'Gentry liberal' Democrats feel free to oppose Obama trade policy

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Michael Barone,Mike Michaud,Rosa DeLauro,TPP

There’s a rally scheduled for tomorrow on Capitol Hill on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade agreement currently being negotiated by the Obama administration, which rally organizers call “a disaster for U.S. workers.”

Five members of the House are announced as participating, all Democrats. They make up an interesting list. You might think that they represent districts with large blue collar, working class populations. And one of them, Mike Michaud of Maine 2, does; his district covers the northern part of the state and old mill towns like Lewiston. But the other four don’t.

Rosa DeLauro's Connecticut 3 is centered on New Haven, home of Yale University; it used to be a heavily industrial area, but is much less so today. The other three House members represent House districts where the Democratic base is made up of what Joel Kotkin calls "gentry liberals": Jan Schakowsky of Illinois 9 (lakefront liberals from Chicago plus the university town of Evanston and high-income suburbs to the north), Keith Ellison of Minnesota 5 (the city of Minneapolis and a few suburbs) and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin 2 (cenetered on the university town and state capital of Madison).

On his trip to Asia last month, President Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But as I noted in both a Washington Examiner blogpost and a column, Obama has done precious little to secure trade promotion authority, essential for a successful negotiation, from his fellow Democrats in Congress.

It’s understandable that members with heavy blue collar or union constituencies would oppose him on this; unions have opposed free trade agreements for the last 40 years. But members with gentry liberal constituencies have no compelling political reason to go along. They do so out of conviction, perhaps, and/or out of a commitment to left-wing solidarity.

A president who really wanted a free trade agreement would have been lobbying them long ago to at least support trade promotion authority. There is no evidence that Obama has done so. On the contrary, he has effectively signaled to these five Democrats that it’s perfectly all right to oppose what he says is a major administration priority.

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Michael Barone

Senior Political Analyst
The Washington Examiner