GRAND JUNCTION, CO — Incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is undecided about whether he will support the Trans-Pacific Partnership global trade agreement backed by President Barack Obama.
In an interview with The Colorado Independent following a speech before a much-anticipated Sept. 10 debate, Bennet said he doesn’t know if he’ll take a stance on TPP before ballots drop in Colorado here next month.
Obama has said he will try to push the 12-nation Pacific deal through a lame-duck session of Congress despite controversy over provisions that would allow foreign corporations to challenge U.S. laws and regulations in what has been called a “private global super court.”
If completed, the TPP would be one of Obama’s largest foreign policy legacies as president.
Asked what questions he’s considering about the TPP before he supports or rejects it, Bennet said he wants to weigh whether labor and environmental standards are strong enough against the impact trade has on Colorado’s agricultural sector.
“That’s the balance,” he said.
Bennet said he did not have a timeline on when he might take a position. In Colorado, where Nov. 8 will be the first presidential election in which voters can cast ballots entirely by mail, ballots will start hitting mailboxes around Oct. 17.
The TPP, the largest regional trade agreement in history, “would set new terms for trade and business investment among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations — a far-flung group with an annual gross domestic product of nearly $28 trillion that represents roughly 40 percent of global G.D.P. and one-third of world trade,” according to The New York Times. Critics of the deal worry about runaway globalism and job losses in the United States. An independent study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics reported the deal would raise incomes in the U.S,. but not jobs overall.
Obama has expressed confidence he can get the TPP through Congress after the Nov. 8 election. Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both oppose the deal.
Bennet’s Republican rival in the U.S. Senate race, El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, says he has concerns about the TPP and how it could make the U.S. government “subservient to another body.” He wants a larger public discussion and investigation about the deal.
“Right now I would be leaning towards opposed,” Glenn today told The Independent, saying he prefers bilateral agreements where the U.S. government has more control.
The Libertarian candidate in the race, Lily Tang Williams, who will participate in tonight’s Club 20 debate, says she also opposes TPP. She has concerns about transparency and called the accord not “real free trade.”
Arn Menconi, the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate, says he has been against the TPP since last summer. Bennet should by now have enough information to make a decision, Menconi said.
Unity Party candidate Bill Hammons, who will also be on the Nov. 8 ballot, says he generally supports free trade with provisions for carbon tariffs and minimum wage protections, and would be a “reluctant” yes vote on TPP.
In May, Colorado’s largest labor union, the state’s chapter of the AFL-CIO, declined to endorse Bennet for re-election because he had not yet taken a public position on the TPP, but voted on a measure giving Obama the authority to “fast track” negotiations for the TPP and other global trade agreements.
Bennet, Glenn, and Williams debated Sept. 10 at the Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction.