DES MOINES -- Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts see eye to eye on many issues, but their sharp differences on a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico grabbed prime-time attention during Tuesday’s debate.
At issue was the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a renegotiation of the quarter-century-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The new deal – known as the USMCA – was negotiated by the Trump administration. A revised deal was overwhelming approved last month in a bipartisan vote by the House of Representatives.
Sanders, the populist independent senator who’s making his second straight White House run, slammed the deal at the debate, saying that “we can do much better than a Trump-led trade deal.”
He argued that “this deal .. will result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs as a result of outsourcing.”
Sanders touted his vote against NAFTA and his opposition to other trade deals and also spotlighted that “I will not vote for a trade agreement that does not incorporate very, very strong principles to significantly lower fossil fuel emissions in the world.”
Warren also touted her opposition to past trade deals, saying “I led the fight against the trade deal with Asia and the trade deal with Europe.”
But disagreeing with her fellow progressive standard-bearer in the Democratic presidential field, Warren highlighted that “we have farmers here in Iowa that are hurting and they are hurting because of Donald Trump’s initiated trade wars.”
“This new trade deal is a modest improvement. Sen. Sanders himself has said so,” Warren said, pointing to a past statement by Sanders.
She highlighted that the revised USMCA “will give some relief to our farmers, it will give some relief to our workers. I believe we accept that relief. We try to help the people who need help and we get up the next day and we fight for a better trade deal.”
Sanders – responding – warned that “if this is passed, I think it will set us back a number of years.”
The debate moderators then asked former Vice President Joe Biden about a past comment by Sanders that if Biden wins the Democratic nomination, Trump will “eat your lunch” for voting for “terrible” trade agreements.
The former vice president – ribbing Sanders – said that “I don’t know that there’s any trade agreement that the senator would think made any sense.”
And Biden pledged that “there will be no trade agreement signed in my administration without environmentalists and labor at the table. And there will be no trade agreement until we invest more in American workers.”
Sanders, spotlighting Biden’s support for NAFTA and other trade agreements, shot back that “Joe and I have a fundamental disagreement, in case you haven’t noticed.”