PHILADELPHIA — U.S. Rep. Ron Kind faced a row of TV cameras, surrounded by a small band of fellow Democratic rebels resolved to make their voices heard.
[Mark Sommerhauser| July 27, 2016 |Journal Times]
Kind, D-La Crosse, had just finished addressing Wisconsin delegates Wednesday morning at the Democratic National Convention.
Kind started speaking to reporters when about a dozen protesters encircled him, waving signs and heckling him for supporting the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Andrew Walsh, a delegate from Appleton for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, yelled about how the deal would affect Wisconsin union workers.
“No TPP! No TPP!” Walsh chanted, others joining him.
Kind, his voice lost in the din, smiled, shook his head and walked away from the cameras.
Opposition to TPP, a proposed free-trade deal with Pacific Rim nations including Japan and Vietnam, was a key issue in the primary campaign for Sanders and his supporters.
It has become a key fault line within the party at this convention. The TPP deal was put forth by President Barack Obama and is supported by some congressional Republicans.
Hillary Clinton, who became the Democratic nominee at the convention Tuesday night, has wavered on TPP. She initially spoke favorably about the deal, then came out against it last year as Sanders’ campaign was ascending.
While many Sanders supporters have fallen in behind Clinton at this convention, a small, vocal band of Sanders die-hards repeatedly and loudly have registered objections to Clinton and the views she and her allies hold.
The “No TPP!” chant has been one of their rallying cries, heard intermittently at places in and around the convention site, including on the convention floor Monday.
Whether enough of those Sanders backers support Clinton could determine if she beats Republican Donald Trump in November.
Wisconsin, with its large manufacturing base, is a state in which trade issues resonate. The state tilts Democratic in presidential years, but often is close enough that it could be up for grabs if Democrats are divided.
Kind, a 10-term Democrat from La Crosse, has been one of Obama’s top allies in trying to steer the deal through Congress.
In the Aug. 9 Democratic primary, Kind faces a opponent, Myron Buchholz, who has emphasized his support for Sanders and opposition to TPP.
Matthew LaRonge is a Sanders delegate from Stevens Point who said he has worked on behalf of Buchholz. LaRonge said Wednesday’s protest escalated when Kind promoted TPP in his speech, then declined to speak with protesters about their concerns.
“He literally was trying to shove the TPP down our throats as we were eating breakfast,” LaRonge said.
LaRonge, like many TPP critics, say it will lead to more U.S. jobs being outsourced.
Speaking to the Wisconsin State Journal after Wednesday’s fracas subsided, Kind said TPP is poorly understood — in part because its supporters haven’t done enough to explain its benefits.
Obama has portrayed the deal as vital for the U.S. as it jockeys with China for influence over trade rules in East Asia.
Kind said the deal contains enforcement triggers to sanction member nations if they fail to abide by labor, human-rights and environmental standards — a point contested by its critics.
“There’s confusion; people are conflating trade with trade agreements,” Kind said. “The trade that’s going on absent trade agreements has not worked well for us. China, Brazil, India: We don’t have trade agreements with those countries.
“But when most people think of the adverse effects of trade, they think about those countries.”
Kind said military leaders have expressed support to him for TPP on diplomatic and national security grounds.
Kind declined to say if he would support a congressional vote on the deal during the lame-duck session of Congress. Such a vote has been floated by supporters of the deal as possibly its only path forward, since both Clinton and Trump have come out against it.
Meanwhile, Walsh, a union bookmaker, was asked if he’ll vote for Clinton in November.
Walsh responded that he wants to see how Clinton handles TPP and whether she pressures Kind and other Democrats against it.
“She wants to have our backs?” Walsh said. “This is her chance.”