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Democrats divided on free trade agreement in South Florida

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Although a majority of House Democrats rejected President Obama on expanding his trade negotiating power, two of the three Democrats who met the press hours before the Florida Democratic Party’s big summer dinner did and do support the Trans Pacific Partnership.

“We are a big tent party, and we have wide ranging views on the best approach to dealing with trade,” said Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC Chair and Congresswoman from South Florida at a press conference held hours before the Florida Democratic Party was going to host their annual Leadership Blue Gala at the Biltmore Hotel in Hallandale Beach.

Wasserman Schultz was one of the few House Democrats who voted to support President Obama on the trade issue on Friday. She said she did so because it was an opportunity to under a Democratic President “who shares our values and focuses on making sure we have labor and environmental protection in place.”

But trying to balance the division in the progressive movement about the trade deal, Wasserman Schultz acknowledged that “our friends in the labor movement have legitimate concerns.”

The 12-country TPP is strongly supported by groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, but a populist strain in both parties led to the overwhelming defeat of the first in a series of trade bills on the agreement.

Hawaii Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard opposes the TPP. “I think we can and we need to do better,” she said, adding that it was a week “filled with a lot of emotions, a lot of passions.” But she insisted that the process isn’t dividing Democrats, saying that that the discord “makes our process stronger.”

Virginia Senator Mark Warner, like Gabbard one of the keynote speakers at the Democratic dinner, said he strongly supports moving on trade.  He says opponents of the deal befuddle him, because “If we don’t have a TPP, China’s going to set the rules for 40 percent of the world.”

“The problems we have with vis-à-vis a trade imbalance with China are only going to be exacerbated,” without the deal, though China is not part of the agreement.

And he said that while he understood fellow Democrats concerns about previous trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA, he insisted this deal holds up substantially better.

“This is not your ‘grandfather’s trade agreement, this is a 21st Century trade agreement,” Warner said.

There will be more votes on the trade deal this Tuesday in Congress.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at

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