By Tom Troy
In August, 1996, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) cast a dark cloud over Bill Clinton’s whistle-stop re-election campaign visit to Toledo by denouncing the trade agreement he had signed into law, NAFTA, as a “crime.”
Twenty years later, Miss Kaptur stood on a Toledo stage with another Clinton — Hillary — and coincidentally also in a railroad-related setting, the Amtrak station in Toledo — and lectured her on NAFTA.
It was a more friendly speech, but Miss Kaptur’s point was the same: The North American Free Trade Agreement needs to be revised for the benefit of Ohio workers.
In her 116-word statement before Mrs. Clinton herself took the stage in the Monday rally, Miss Kaptur said the next president should “balance our trade accounts for the first time in a quarter century.”
“Trade should work in America’s interests again so we stop exporting our jobs and begin exporting more products,” Miss Kaptur said on the stand.
“Yes, trade agreements such as NAFTA have to be rewritten,” said Miss Kaptur, a 33-year veteran of the U.S. House of Representatives.
She concluded by saying that, “with her experience as secretary of state and lawyerly skills, I believe Hillary Clinton can create a new trade model that creates jobs here at home anchored in the principle of free trade among free people.”
She said Mrs. Clinton wasn’t in the main hall of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Plaza where the introductory remarks were being made at that moment, so she’s not sure Mrs. Clinton heard what she said.
However, just before the speech, Miss Kaptur said she buttonholed Mrs. Clinton in a side room and urged her to organize a forum on jobs and trade for the Lake Erie states, and suggested it be co-hosted by The Blade and the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.
She said the candidate turned to an aide, saying, “Congresswoman Kaptur has some interesting ideas,” and Miss Kaptur described them to the aide.
“That’s all it was, but at least I spoke up,” Miss Kaptur said. “I said to her I really appreciated her coming and I hoped she would consider a forum to discuss jobs and trades in the Great Lakes region.”
Whether Mrs. Clinton — if elected — will be an ally in taking down NAFTA, which was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, is something Miss Kaptur cannot know.
“I’m voting for a hope,” she said.
Bill Clinton came on a three-day train trip to Toledo in 1996 to campaign for re-election and spoke at the Jeep assembly plant, where Miss Kaptur denounced the trade deal he had pushed through Congress in 1993.
Mrs. Clinton has been both a supporter and a critic of NAFTA. As first lady, Mrs. Clinton championed NAFTA as an achievement of her husband’s first term, saying in 1996 it “has proved its worth.”
As a U.S. senator from New York, a state that has lost many manufacturing jobs, she said NAFTA had not lived up to its promise.
At a debate in Cleveland with Barack Obama in 2008, both Clinton and Mr. Obama gave assurances that they would try to renegotiate NAFTA, if elected.
“I would immediately have a trade timeout. And I would take that time to try to fix NAFTA by making it clear that we’ll have core labor and environmental standards in the agreement,” Mrs. Clinton said.
Mr. Obama, who went on to win the election, also promised action on NAFTA in that debate.
“I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced,” he said, in response to questions from debate moderator Tim Russert.
Mr. Obama never reopened NAFTA, saying a worldwide economic crisis was the wrong time for that.
A clause in the agreement says clearly that either side can end the agreement with six months notice.
Instead of tightening NAFTA, Mr. Obama threw his energy into writing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, something Mrs. Clinton — as his secretary of state — supported. She termed it “the gold standard” of trade deals, at one point.
Again a candidate, Mrs. Clinton has declared her opposition to TPP.
Donald Trump, the Republican candidate in the presidential election, has stated unequivocally that he will renegotiate NAFTA to get better terms for the United States.
Miss Kaptur, however, is sticking with her party’s nominee. She said she doesn’t trust some of the people advising Mr. Trump, and thinks his criticism of NAFTA is not deeply thought through.
“I’m glad to have his voice on this. He has his finger on a very, very important issue but I don’t see any depth,” Miss Kaptur said.
“I don’t have confidence in any presidential candidate. Because, when they get to Washington they get neutered by the forces at work that have no respect for or direct knowledge of how what they’re doing in foreign policy affects people here at home,” Miss Kaptur said. “They trade off parts of America for foreign policy reasons.”