Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod called Mark Penn's departure from the Clinton campaign "stunning," and coined the iconic quip for this morning's news on MSNBC's Morning Joe: "The sword is mightier than the Penn." Axelrod and host Joe Scarborough then spoke at some length about Penn's role, both in and out of the Clinton campaign during the campaign season, and the mixed messages that Axelrod believed were clearly sent on trade issues. Asked how Penn's wrangling with Colombian officials on trade colored Clinton's position on NAFTA, Axelrod criticized Clinton for her "indignation" and "moralizing," finally saying, "You can use the word hypocrisy, but there are certainly questions that arise from this."
Axelrod later attempted to clarify Obama's position on NAFTA: "Senator Obama has been critical from the beginning because NAFTA didn't include labor and environmental standards within the treaty that were enforceable. And he still believes they should be included...That's always been his position."
SCARBOROUGH: Let's bring in David Axelrod, if he still has his job. David, you haven't been fired, have you?
AXELROD: It's early in the day, Joe, so I can't say for sure. I think I'm still in place. But it turns out sometimes the sword is mightier than the Penn, right? I thought that up while I was waiting for you.
SCARBOROUGH: You have been waiting to say that for about a year and a half. So what about Penn?
AXELROD: Look, it's kind of a, it's a big thing inside that campaign because anybody who has been involved with Senator Clinton and anybody who has watched from the outside knows that he has pretty much called the shots for all nine years of her political career. And she stuck with him despite all the reverses in the campaign, she stuck with him through the revelation that his firm was working for Blackwater and working for Countrywide. So, you know, it's kind of stunning that this happened.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, does this prove she's a hypocrite on NAFTA?
AXELROD: Well, I tell you what, you all witnessed during the Ohio primary the, you know, Senator Clinton all of her righteous indignation, all her moralizing about, you know, something far more innocent than this which was an unpaid part-time adviser to Obama and his conversation at the consulate in Chicago with somebody which then was later disputed, the facts of which were disputed. Here is, Penn orchestrated this outburst that was used for political purposes and turned it into an ad. And how he could ankle on down to the Colombian embassy. And you know, remember, that the embassy, they weren't sure if he was there as a representative of his firm or a representative of Senator Clinton. I mean, I think there are issues associated with this. You can use the word hypocrisy, but there are certainly questions that arise from this.
SCARBOROUGH: We said earlier and I think most of us agree at this table, we could be wrong, but most of us agree that if Barack Obama is President of the United States, he's not going to pull us out of NAFTA. This is something you have to say in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but come on, no way in Hell any presidential candidate running now is going to withdraw from NAFTA or any of the other trade agreements.
AXELROD: Joe, let's take this in two parts. The first question is where has someone been from the beginning. And one of the things, the other thing that happened in Ohio is that Senator Clinton said, and she continues to say, despite all the evidence "I spoke out against NAFTA." She didn't. She in fact - her schedules came out - it turned out she was speaking at cheerleading meetings for NAFTA, and campaigned for NAFTA. And now, she switched her position. Senator Obama has been critical from the beginning because NAFTA didn't include labor and environmental standards within the treaty that were enforceable. And he still believes they should be included. And he has said that he will work with the Canadians and the Mexican government to try and get those included in the treaty. He has also said, Joe, and he has said this to labor audiences and business audiences, that trade is an important dimension of the global economy, that we have to compete and with have to win. But we have to do it within a set of rules that are fair to American workers and the entire economy, and that they have to be enforceable. And that's his position. That's always been his position. He hasn't changed it in order to influence a couple of primaries.