Former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Wednesday he believes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal he helped negotiate, is critical for the future of the American economy. And he said he still supports Hillary Clinton, who lauded the deal during her tenure as secretary of state but has more recently opposed it.
Kirk, the former Texas secretary of state and Dallas mayor, told Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith during a taping of the PBS show Overheard with Evan Smith that he’s donated money to Clinton’s presidential campaign, though he stopped short of a formal endorsement.
“I think Secretary Clinton demonstrated last night that she is head and shoulders above the rest of this field — I’ve given her money, I signed up right away,” Kirk said, referencing Tuesday night's Democratic debate. “I love [Vice President] Joe Biden too much to pressure him one way or the other, but I’m holding off on an endorsement until he decides” whether to run for president.
Clinton, who as secretary of state called the trade deal the “gold standard,” said earlier this month that she was “worried” about the terms of the deal as it stands. The TPP would be the largest trade deal in history, involving the United States and 11 Pacific Rim countries.
Kirk said he believes the trade agreement is necessary to secure the country’s place in an increasingly interconnected global economy.
“We cannot afford to be in a position where we want the U.S. sitting on a sideline,” Kirk said. “That’s a losing proposition.”
As trade secretary, Kirk said he focused on listening to the concerns of workers in American cities such as Detroit and Pittsburgh. Despite labor unions’ vocal opposition to the trade agreement, Kirk said he believes there is room for compromise and discussion.
“Every place I went, I met with the labor groups,” Kirk said. “They’re not against trade. They don’t like that they feel like everyone is taking advantage of us.”
Kirk said engaging with the deal’s critics — and reassuring them that it includes elements of compromise — will be essential for gathering support.
“I sat with the president, and we talked about the challenges here,” Kirk said. “He said, ‘We’ve got to stop dismissing the critics of trade like they’re just heretics.’”
Kirk said he was very familiar with American workers’ concerns.
“I reminded him — I married a woman who grew up in Detroit,” Kirk said.
Kirk did not address Clinton’s change in position, which some Republicans have criticized as a “flip flop.”
“I will do everything I can to prove this agreement worthy of the gold standard Secretary Clinton laid out,” he said.