Trans-Pacific Partnership: GOP candidates split on deal

Hillary Clinton opposes Obama's Pacific trade deal
Hillary Clinton opposes Obama's Pacific trade deal
Sen. Corker: No TPP without GOP
Sen. Corker: No TPP without GOP
TPP deal mounts pressure on RCEP talks: Pro
TPP deal mounts pressure on RCEP talks: Pro

There are plenty of criticisms for President Barack Obama from the Republican presidential field, but some top candidates actually support his signature trade achievement.

Others, however, characterize Obama's Asia-Pacific trade pact as one of the president's worst decisions.

Negotiators from the United States, Japan, Australia and nine other nations agreed on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) earlier this month. If passed by each country's governments, the trade deal — which notably excludes China — would represent about 40 percent of the global economy, offering significantly reduced trade barriers to member states.

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Critics on the right and the left (and companies like Ford) charge that the deal is incomplete because it does not guard against countries from unfairly manipulating their currencies — as Japan is often accused of doing. Additionally, some politicians say the deal needs stronger environmental and labor standards.

GOP front-runner Donald Trump is one such critic. Outspoken on what he says are America's trade failings with Mexico and China, Trump has tweeted several direct critiques of what the Obama administration negotiated.

Trump tweet 1.

Trump tweet 2.

Trump has also made headlines for calling the TPP "a disaster" and suggesting that China will try to join the trade block to take advantage of the United States.

On the other hand, Jeb Bush — an establishment favorite — has voiced his support for the pact.

We have to see the details of it. I'm generally very much in favor of free trade. I explain to people all the time the United States cannot get locked out of 95 percent of the world's consumers.
Marco Rubio

"I have no problem supporting TPP," he wrote in a post earlier this year. "We've worked with some of our most important allies in negotiations to help make this possible  —  and asked them to take political risks of their own to open their markets to American goods, agricultural products, and services."

Acknowledging that populist elements in his own party oppose the deal, Bush reiterated his support in that April post.

"I know there is political risk in supporting free trade. TPP is President Obama's biggest trade initiative. I know some political constituencies in my own political party don't favor it," he wrote. "But I agree with what Hillary Clinton said about TPP in 2012: This is a great deal for America."

The world will respect and fear Trump: Professor
The world will respect and fear Trump: Professor

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also voiced his support for the idea, writing as early as 2014 that "once the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is concluded and other interested nations are able to join, it will allow us to further unite our economies, creating commerce and business opportunities for millions throughout North America, South America, and Asia."

Rubio also voted to give the Obama administration so-called trade promotion authority (TPA) — which allows the White House to present a nonamendable deal to Congress for a simple yes-no vote. Still, he told CNBC in October that he has not fully committed to supporting the pact.

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"We have to see the details of it. I'm generally very much in favor of free trade. I explain to people all the time the United States cannot get locked out of 95 percent of the world's consumers," Rubio said earlier this month. "But the details of it are what we need to understand before we can commit to voting for something. But generally, it's very positive."

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham voted for TPA in June, but he has remained relatively quiet on the issue. He did suggest in 2013, however, that he supported a proposal to push for stronger currency rules in the Trans-Pacific text.

GOP poll numbers: NBC News/WSJ
GOP poll numbers: NBC News/WSJ

Another senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, was a staunch opponent of giving the White House promotion authority. He has repeatedly called for the administration to make public more details of the agreement.

Sen. Ted Cruz or Texas originally supported giving the White House TPA, saying that he "could not in good conscience vote against a bill whose most significant impacts will be jobs, growth, and opportunity for struggling American families." By June, Cruz flipped, voting against TPA because of what he said was backroom dealmaking on the issue.

Mike Huckabee came out against the pact in October for a similar reason. He accused the White House of crafting a deal representing "a handout to insiders, interest groups, Obama's allies and Asia."

Some GOP candidates, however, are waiting until the full details of the agreement are publicly available before they announce a position..

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Ben Carson — who stands in second place behind Trump in major national polls — criticized the negotiation process behind the deal, but admitted that he supports free trade in general. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took a similar approach, saying that the devil will be in the details for the TPP.

Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina has also told news organizations she supports free trade, but doesn't trust the Obama administration to broker an advantageous deal.

"What I hear is a bunch of sound bites and a bunch of selling points. And he does not have a track record of the details matching his selling points," she told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has similarly said he is a proponent of free trade, but he doesn't "trust" Obama, and is wary of the international deal serving as a back door to put environmental regulations in place. Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, has also indicated in several interviews that he is skeptical of the agreement.

On the other side of the debate is Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who said earlier this month he thinks he supports the TPP deal, but will withhold judgment until he sees details. In addition to the economic effects of the agreement, Kasich said he favored the geopolitical advantages of further entrenching U.S. interests around the Pacific Rim.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki has been relatively silent on the issue, and his office did not immediate return a request for comment.