Clinton Vs. NAFTA: The Smoking Schedule?

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Senator Hillary Clinton made quite a spectacle of herself in the waning days of the Ohio race, trying to build a border-sized wall between her and her husband's chief accomplishment as president: the free-trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. "I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning," she said more than once.

Was she? She'd have us take her at her word, given that she and her husband have fought to keep from public view two million pages of records from their time in the White House. On Wednesday, however, the National Archives released 11,000 heavily redacted pages that comprise Clinton's schedule as First Lady, and a cursory look at these very cursory documents would suggest otherwise: she held at least five meetings on NAFTA, including one billed as "NAFTA briefing drop by" for 120 guests. The agendas don't actually describe what took place, but some enterprise reporting* by ABC News' Jake Tapper does. Tapper spoke with two attendees at the "drop-by," women involved in international trade. Said one: "Her remarks were totally pro-NAFTA and what a good thing it would be for the economy. There was no equivocation for her support for NAFTA at the time." Said the second: "She asked for our support and help in passing NAFTA." According to one, "the invitation list, who was invited authorizations and all that stuff" came from the First Lady's office in the White House East Wing. Both said that their circle of lady free traders finds Senator Clinton's backpedaling both unpleasant and disingenuous. "You need to have some integrity in your position," said one. "The Clintons when Bill Clinton was president took a moderate position on trade for Democrats. For her to repudiate that now seems pretty phony."

Naturally, that view is shared by the Obama campaign, which wasted no time in circulating the schedules to reporters, with a memo attached. "It's about trust," said the memo, as reported in the Boston Globe. "American workers are already facing the uncertainly of a changing economy. The last thing they need is another president who changes views when there's an election coming up." (The Clinton campaign, for its part, has directed reporters to a statement by David Gergen, a White House official at the time, who recalls that the former First Lady was "extremely unenthusiastic" about NAFTA, though he also seems to suggest that this might be because she thought the Administration should pursue health care reform first.)

I agree with the Obama camp. Their problem, though, is that as an issue, NAFTA is so, like, late last month. Who even remembers the Ohio primary? And who cares about NAFTA any more? This week, it's all about race.


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*It turns out that Tapper's colleague at ABC News, George Stephanopoulos, attended one of those meetings, so this bout of journalism might have begun at the office water cooler**.

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**UPDATE, March 24 at 7:45 PM: And on Sunday, the eponymous host of This Week With George Stephanopoulos found himself in the curiously conflicted but, in Washington, not wholly unusual, position of being both journalist and subject when the roundtable discussion turned to the schedule dump. "George is somebody who can jump in on this issue," ABC news correspondent Claire Shipman, and so he did. On the question of the trade agreement, he said, rather sheepishly, "I it is true, though -- I was in some of these meetings -- and it is true that at the time, she was pushing health care, and she didn't appreciate the fact that NAFTA was getting a lot more time on the schedule."

Last updated: Mar 21, 2008




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