Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington
Nashua and Norwalk will have their time again soon enough. This week, though, the center of gravity in the political world swings from the presidential campaign trail back to Washington, as Congress launches into what promises to be an explosive debate over trade. Lawmakers will be considering whether to hand President Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate trade agreements — power the White House says it needs to wrap up work on the massive Trans Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation pact linking economies from Japan to Chile that make up 40 percent of global GDP.
The issue presents the last, best hope for progress on the beleaguered big business agenda. So expect the corporate lobby to marshal a shock-and-awe scale pressure campaign behind it. Yet color us skeptical of trade boosters’ prospects. It’s a tough one to handicap, since the debate cuts a jagged battle line across traditional allegiances: the Obama administration is linking arms with GOP leaders in the Capitol and facing down widespread opposition from within Congressional Democratic ranks. Still, this much is clear: the White House has a vanishingly skinny margin for error. A likely significant number of conservative Republicans — still smarting over the President’s post-election executive order easing deportations of illegal immigrants — will bolt simply because they object to handing Obama any additional leverage. And on the left, labor unions and environmental groups have spent weeks in key Democratic districts doing everything but banging pots and pans together to sustain an anti-trade din. An unofficial consensus among pro-trade lobbyists hands the opposition the win for the early rounds. As the debate is joined in Congress, corporate interests are starting from behind.
• Hillary on Trade: “Hillary Isn’t Here Right Now, Please Try Again Later”
Obama’s trade agenda will be decided in Washington, but it’s already splashing back onto the presidential trail in messy fashion for the woman who hopes to succeed him. Hillary Clinton is so far offering a lawyerly dodge in place of a clear position for or against her former boss’s push for a capstone on his economic legacy. That’s understandable enough: The debate cleaves the party’s liberal base from some of the deep pockets that will fund her bid. But at some point soon, Clinton will have to declare herself. Washington Post
• Hillary Hires a Wall Street Scourge
Pending the rollout of some actual policy grist from the nascent campaign, Hillary watchers must busy themselves sifting through tea leaves. Those still pining for an Elizabeth Warren run and deeply wary of Clinton’s Wall Street coziness heard a potentially reassuring development Thursday with the news that Gary Gensler is joining her operation as chief financial officer. Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs partner who served in Bill Clinton’s Treasury Department, distinguished himself post-crisis as Obama’s most aggressive financial regulator. The wayward Rubinite used his perch atop the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to press for the toughest-possible standards to govern derivatives. Less clear at the moment is what role, precisely, he’ll take in shaping Clinton’s economic platform. Bloomberg
• DOJ Tugs the Plug on the Comcast-Time Warner Deal
Justice Department lawyers are reportedly getting ready to recommend the feds block the pending merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable on the grounds the tie-up would create a monopoly that would harm consumers. The deal, which would join the country’s two largest cable operators into one with roughly 30 percent of all subscribers, must pass muster with both the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission. The companies themselves for now are waiving away the suggestion that anything is amiss. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
• Plying the Friendly Skies
For all those who think Members of Congress are in bed with the lobbyists who solicit them, Politico offers up some very literal support for the claim. The outlet reports that Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who chairs the House panel overseeing the airline industry, is dating a top lobbyist for — you guessed it — the airline industry. Shuster says his office policy dictates that his girlfriend, Shelley Rubino, a top executive at a leading industry trade group called Airlines for America, doesn’t lobby him or his staff. But the industry group has other ins with Shuster as he directs a wholesale transformation of the Federal Aviation Administration: The lawmaker just hired another lobbyist from Airlines for America to serve as the staff director on his committee, and the chief of staff in his personal office is married to yet another lobbyist for the group. Politico
• A 2016 Dark Horse Inches Closer to a Run
The way the Republican presidential sweepstakes are shaping up, GOP primary voters will have no shortage of options. But one particularly intriguing dark horse is edging ever closer to making the race. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, riding high popular approvals in his own swing state, has been road-testing his singular brand of economic populism. Now, he’s forming a nonprofit to fund that travel — a signal, at the very least, that he intends to stay in the national conversation. He rejoins it Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, and say this for him: He’s never boring. Columbus Dispatch