Secret Trade Deal: The "Tells" of Broder & Emanuel vs. The Courage of 5 Progressive Senators

05/17/2007 04:24 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This is another in a series of ongoing posts following the announcement of a secret free trade deal on May 10, 2007 between a handful of senior Democrats and the Bush administration.

I am always amused when folks in Washington resort to their sad, tired, utterly transparent tactics of years passed and nonetheless present themselves as astute experts and political Machiavellis whose brilliance is of national significance - a critical force to herd us supposedly lowly stupid masses like a pack of barn animals. What these people forget, however, is the old song from The Who: "We won't get fooled again."

In his column today, the Dean of the Washington press corps, David Broder, attacks me by name for raising questions about the secret free trade deal cut by a handful of senior Democrats and the Bush White House. Broder, like most other Washington pundits, heartily endorses the trade agreement and declares as fact that the White House agreed "to the inclusion of labor and environmental guarantees in the body of the trade agreements." He makes this claim even though the text of the trade agreements remain secret and thus he has never seen them. Additionally, he claims as definitive fact that these provisions will be written into the core texts of the trade agreements in question, ignoring previously confirmed reporting whereby top GOP negotiators have said the White House is planning to not actually write any provisions into the core texts of the trade agreements in question, thus rendering them to, at best, unenforceable NAFTA-like side agreements (I say he "ignored" them to give Broder the benefit of the doubt - more likely, he omitted that fact, because a longtime Washington insider like him has never really expressed any concern over piddling little details about things like actual enforcement of protections for workers or the environment).

But what's interesting here is not David Broder's brushing aside of the basic tenets of journalism that used to require reporters to make assertions only about facts that they had seen. No, what's interesting is the old Washington games going on. Follow this with me, and you'll see it pretty clearly because the players involved have exposed what they would call in poker the key "tells."

Broder acknowledges that his article is the result of an interview with Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the man who, as a Clinton administration aide, was charged with organizing K Street lobbyists to pass the deal over the objections of Democrats in Congress and "over the dead bodies" of labor and environmentalists, as the CEO of American Express said at the time. Emanuel has been spending his time these days silencing rank-and-file Democrats who are objecting the deal, using his chairmanship to prevent a full, open Democratic caucus meeting on trade that was requested by Democratic lawmakers.

Broder's article comes out the same week emails from Emanuel's office show he has clearly become irritated at me personally for raising questions about the deal. That may sound just like circumstantial evidence of politician-pundit collusion, but ask yourself: Why would David Broder, dean of the Washington press corps, single me out as a supposedly ominous "force" who dares to raise questions about a secret trade deal that potentially disrespects the entire mandate of the 2006 election?

It's a key question that exposes the "tell" at play here, especially when you consider that scores of labor, health, agriculture and environmental organizations that represent millions of Americans have come out strongly against this deal. It's even more telling when you consider that Broder singles me out on the very day that five Senators held a big press conference to slam the deal (more on this below). Really, why would David Broder write a piece portraying the secret trade deal as the most unifying and glorious program since Medicare while portraying opposition coming not from the millions of Americans it's actually coming from, but instead just from one writer out here in good ol' Helena, Montana?

The answer, obviously, is that Broder is playing the Washington game of trying to portray opposition to this trade deal as coming just from a few people, and not from a big coalition of voices. And he's likely getting his cues from his friend Rahm Emanuel. As Broder admits, his piece comes from one interview with Emanuel this week - the same week Emanuel's office attacked me.

This shouldn't be a surprise - Emanuel and Broder, lifelong Washington insiders, have colluded closely to push K Street's trade agenda in the past. You may recall that at the same time Emanuel was running the White House's NAFTA operation, Broder published a column repeating White House talking points, claiming on the eve of the NAFTA House vote Emanuel was lobbying for that "in a decade or less, NAFTA will be seen clearly as a boon to both nations." Weeks later, Broder congratulated Emanuel's work, saying the Clinton administration's "victories on trade policy with NAFTA [means the Clinton White House] has much to be proud of." Broder and Emanuel later both penned influential pieces demanding Democrats pass the China free trade deal, with Broder writing that the deal is "an ingenious proposal for monitoring human-rights abuses in China, protecting against surges of Chinese imports and assuring that China lives up to its promise to open its markets to U.S. and other foreign goods."

We are expected to forget just how utterly, completely and embarrassingly wrong Broder and Emanuel have been with respect to free trade policy and its effects on America. It's been years since NAFTA and China PNTR passed, hundreds of thousands of American jobs have been lost specifically because of these deals; 19 million more Mexicans are now in poverty than they were before the deals; we have a record high trade deficit thanks to Chinese slave labor driving down wages and creating a surge of artificially cheap imports that American manufacturers can't compete with; human rights abuses continue to go unpunished in China; currency manipulation has damaged American businesses' ability to access the Chinese market; polls show Americans are disgusted with NAFTA and other NAFTA-esque trade deals - but, no, we're supposed to consider both David "NAFTA will be seen clearly as a boon to both nations" Broder and Rahm "Over the Dead Bodies" Emanuel as credible experts on creating a trade policy that works for the American middle class, our economy and poor workers abroad.

But even more hilarious is the old Washington game of collusion - the one where an opportunistic, bought-off politician calls up a bitterly territorial and power-worshiping pundit to sick that pundit on those who raise questions about the secret negotiations that the public is not supposed to be privy to. I say it's hilarious because whereas before this kind of cloak-and-dagger shenanigans used to be seen as serious, in the era we now live in it's more like a Saturday Night Live parody sketch. That's because of two distinct phenomena are taking place.

First, America has been here before in the not-so-distant past, and The Who's "won't get fooled again" is ringing in our ears. We remember a Democratic president coming into power with the promise to enact health care reform and oppose unfair trade deals like NAFTA, and then ramming NAFTA through Congress before he spent any political capital at all trying to pass health care reform. It is eerily similar to a Democratic Congress coming into power promising to pass a minimum wage increase and lobbying reform bill and oppose unfair trade deals, and then trying to pass unfair trade deals before spending real political capital trying to raise the minimum wage or crack down on lobbying abuses. We remember, in short, Democratic leaders promising to prioritize one set of middle class goals and promising to fight against K Street's objectives, only to then prioritize K Street's agenda over America's middle class.

Second, those who seek the truth now have ways to present the real facts of what is going without having to communicate through the David Broder filter. That means we no longer live in a world where Beltway insiders can create the inaccurate impression, as the Washington Post and New York Times editors famously did during NAFTA, that there is no opposition to lobbyist-written trade pacts and that such pacts really do work to help workers and the environment, even though most Americans oppose such policies and the hard facts show they are being written to deliberately run roughshod over basic middle-class and environmental priorities.

The Internet and blogs have allowed us to start getting the real, unvarnished story, to the great consternation both the Rahm Emanuels, who want dictatorial power, and the David Broders, who are none too happy that their exclusive hold on Importance in the political world is now being challenged. As just one tiny example, there are thousands of subscribers to my daily blog newsletter - subscribers who get reporting directly from me, which they are encouraged to scrutinize and question through the links to source material. This circumvention of the media filter is being multiplied exponentially across the Internet. Emanuel and Broder can laugh it up in the House Speaker's lobby or at the Capital Grille as they plot against their enemies and play their little incestuous game in Washington, but the joke's on them because their silly Beltway games are no longer relevant. What's relevant, finally, is the facts.

And these facts are very, very clear. Beneath the politicians' platitudes about the secret deal and the pundits' triumphalist rhetoric applauding the the deal, here are the iron-clad facts that we know and that I have been reporting in the seven days since the secret deal was announced:

1. This deal was negotiated in secret, with most rank-and-file Members of Congress having no input. That includes all of Congress's most devoted fair trade experts, including Sen. Sherrod Brown - the man who wrote a book on trade and who won the crucial state of Ohio in 2006 campaigning against lobbyist-written trade policy. Furthermore, Democratic leaders have "rebuffed" formal requests from rank-and-file colleagues to hold an open meeting about the trade deal being negotiated in the Democratic Party's name. Just today, sources on Capitol Hill report that a caucus meeting that was supposed to be about trade ended up being a speech by just two of the dealmakers (Charlie Rangel and Sander Levin) with no discussion allowed. This source says this seems to be a strategy where lobbyists work to sell the deal and lock down support while the text of the deal continues to be withheld in order to keep groups who said they would await the text to make a decision of support to stay out of the negotiations. Meanwhile, rank-and-file Democrats would remain completely in the dark.

2. The legislative language of the deal - that is, the language supposedly protecting labor and environmental rights that will supposedly be inserted into trade pacts - remains secret. As we learned with NAFTA and China PNTR, it is the fine print of this language where enforceability can with the change of one word become utter unenforceability.

3. The deal does nothing to "de-NAFTA-ize" trade policy, leaving intact provisions that, among other things, allow foreign corporations to sue in international court to overturn local, state, and federal environmental and consumer protection laws; and bans federal, state and local governments from enacting legislation to slow down job outsourcing.

4. The deal does not give unions the same rights as corporations in demanding enforcement of provisions in trade pacts. More specifically, while corporations can sue in international court to enforce the protections it cares about in current trade policies, unions may not do the same to enforce any new labor provisions added to trade deals. This means that even if the deal includes strong labor and environmental protections, America will have to rely solely on the Bush administration for enforcement because third parties like unions will be unable to force enforcement themselves. Put another way, the fact that this double standard is preserved calls into question whether any of the deal's provisions will be enforced.

5. Top White House-connected K Street lobbyists such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Tom Donohue has said they have received "assurances that the labor provisions [in the deal] cannot be read to require compliance." This has been reported in all of one American newspaper.

6. Top congressional Republicans have said they and the White House are not planning to reopen the texts of the trade deals with Peru and Panama in question in order to add the much-touted labor and environmental provisions. If this is the case, the deals would likely be "side deals" - and as we learned with NAFTA, such side deals are rendered unenforceable precisely because they are not in the core text of the agreement.

7. Most of K Street has unified to cheer on the deal. Meanwhile, many of the nation's most important labor, environmental, health, human rights, religious, consumer protection and agricultural groups representing millions of Americans have come out strongly against the deal. This, despite David Broder's portrayal that opposition is coming primarily from one writer in Helena, Montana, and that such opposition from one writer in Helena, Montana is a dark and evil "force" that is unfairly bullying Washington's poor, defenseless little multi-billion-dollar corporate lobbying empire that is cheering on this deal.

8. Perhaps most importantly, opposition to this deal is growing inside the halls of Congress, despite the best efforts of the David Broders and the Rahm Emanuels to say otherwise. Just yesterday, for instance, Democratic Rep. Steve Kagan (D-WI) delivered a speech on the floor of the House demanding to know the details of the secret deal. Today, Roll Call's CongressNow newsservice reports that Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Bob Casey (D-PA) "expressed outrage today about the side deals negotiated between Congressional leaders and the White House." The senators are pushing forward a plan to force binding labor, environmental and domestic job creation benchmarks on all future trade deals that, if not met, would allow trade deals to be immediately terminated. This comes on the heels of Emanuel himself admitting to Broder that he probably can only convince about one quarter of all Democrats to support the secret trade deal.

David Broder and Rahm Emanuel can connive together in Washington, but they no longer can hide the cold, hard, indisputable and confirmed facts, much less their own "tells." Furthermore, if presenting such facts results in me and other critics being portrayed mortal threats, then we've gotten the most clear "tell" of all: The one that lets us know the secret deal probably does not have the best interests of most Americans at its core.

UPDATE: MyDD's Matt Stoller sums it all up best: "I don't like sequels in general. And this is surely a sequel: a slowing economy, a President named Bush, a decimated labor force, a neoliberal group in Congress, strong business coalitions, a Clinton running for the Democratic nomination promising to be on the side of the people while surrounding the campaign with corporate-allied operatives, a country looking for change, and a secretive trade deal on the table."