What’s Clinton’s position on trade? She’s ‘standing with us,’ says Sherrod Brown

Editor’s Note: For the latest Making Sen$e report, economics correspondent Paul Solman traveled to the Keystone suit plant outside of Cleveland, Ohio, to discuss Hillary Clinton’s stance on trade with Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. For more on the topic, watch tonight’s Making Sen$e, which airs every Thursday on the PBS NewsHour. And watch Making Sen$e’s report on Donald Trump’s trade doctrine here. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

— Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor

PAUL SOLMAN: What’s Mrs. Clinton’s position on trade?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: She is someone who understands trade, who understands we want more of it, but we want it under a different set of rules.

PAUL SOLMAN: But she was in favor of Trans-Pacific Partnership.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: Well, she supported TPP in the early days, because she worked for the president of the United States and his cabinet, and so everybody else in the cabinet supported TPP too. As a candidate, she knows that rules of origin are a problem for autos in the entire Midwest and not just the auto companies, but the hundreds of thousands of auto supply chain jobs too, and she understands how bad currency provisions have undermined all kinds of industrial jobs in the United States.

She understands that investor-state dispute settlement is a serious problem undermining health and environmental rules, and as president, she will continue to oppose TPP until it dies. She will set out for a new trade policy that works for workers in this plant floor, that works for workers in the United States and that helps countries in the developing world grow.

PAUL SOLMAN: But isn’t trade a good idea? Is it not better for all of us as consumers if we have the most competitively made products in the world?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: I want more trade! I just want it under a different set of rules. And when you look what’s happened to American manufacturing, we lost 5 million jobs from 2000 to 2010, 60,000 plants closed, and this one almost closed in large part because of unfair trade practices from China, NAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China and the Central American Free Trade Agreement. And Hillary Clinton has a real plan on how to enforce trade rules and how to write different trade policy.

PAUL SOLMAN: You saved this plant, right?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: I worked to save it with Gov. Strickland and others.

PAUL SOLMAN: How did you do it?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: Well, we worked with the union, we worked with the company, and we helped talk about “Buy America.” I wear this suit proudly, I have a number of suits that were made on this shop floor, 12 miles from my home. Donald Trump outsources his suits to Mexico; he could’ve bought them here. He could’ve had them made here. He outsources his ties to China — this tie’s made in the U.S. He outsources glass production to Europe. It could’ve been made in Toledo, Ohio. He outsources furniture to Turkey. It could’ve been made in Archbold, Ohio.

Donald Trump talks a good game on trade, but he’s never lived it. He’s lined his pockets by outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries, and now he’s talking about trade as if he actually means it? I’ve been engaged in this fight against bad trade policy for 25 years, and I’ve never seen Donald Trump stand with us. I’ve never even heard Donald Trump’s name or voice while we’re working against bad trade policy.

PAUL SOLMAN: Well, you haven’t heard Hillary Clinton’s voice on this issue either.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: Well, Hillary Clinton had a different set of responsibilities. Hillary Clinton, when she was in the United States Senate, was not an every-time supporter of these trade agreements, but she has stood with us a number of times, and she’s standing with us now. What she wants is to enforce trade policy, she wants to triple the number of trade enforcement officers, which will really matter in trying to level the playing field with South Korea and China and other countries that don’t play it straight.

She wants a special trade prosecutor directed specifically at China, where we have by far our largest bilateral trade deficit. And she looks at TPP in a different way, fixing rules of origin, fixing currency issues and fixing investor-state dispute settlement, which undermines environmental and worker safety standards.

PAUL SOLMAN: You understand why people would say she’s absolutely done an about face on this issue, right? And that she might well go back on the position she now has if she becomes president!

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: I absolutely trust Hillary Clinton to stand strong on these trade agreements. When she was in the Senate, she voted against some, she voted for some. But I have talked to her in detail about currency, about rules of origin, about investor-state dispute settlement — all as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. She understands the agreement. I think you ask Donald Trump some of those questions, I’m not sure he has much depth of understanding, except tear ’em all up, all the while he was lining his pockets, outsourcing suits and glassware and furniture and ties.

So I am confident that Hillary Clinton will stand strong on trade. I’ve written a book about trade, called the “Myths of Free Trade,” I understand this issue. I’ve talked with her at length about it, I’m confident she will stand with us for a very different kind of trade policy and that she will start her administration with much more aggressive enforcement of trade rules.

PAUL SOLMAN: But Donald Trump said he would put a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods. That would be a good thing to you, yes?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: No. First of all, a president of the United States can’t unilaterally impose a tariff on another country. It takes an act of Congress, and that would never pass Congress. But that’s not the way to fix trade policy, to do unilateral tariffs on other countries. You enforce the rules. When China cheats on oil country tubular goods or Korea dumps steel – that is, sells below the cost of production — into the U.S. market illegally, you go to the World Trade Organization or you go to a NAFTA tribunal if it’s Canada and Mexico, and you force those rules.

We know that in countries, especially those that have state-owned enterprises — where China might own a steel plant, a chemical plant or something else — that they will subsidize water or raw materials or land or wages in some cases, and they have much looser environmental rules and much lower wages. Of course we can’t win on trade when they do that! But that’s the importance of currency, that’s the importance of a trade enforcement regiment, which Hillary Clinton has proposed.

PAUL SOLMAN: Donald Trump says he’ll cut taxes and that will make the more productive members of our society more productive still and that he’d create more jobs like this.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: What Donald Trump is suggesting is more tax breaks for the rich, and people on this plant get pennies on the dollar — if they even get that. This typical trickle-down economics that didn’t work during the Bush years. We had a 22 million private sector net increase in jobs during the Clinton years, and we had fewer than 1 million private sector jobs in the Bush years when he did his tax cuts for the rich, which were supposed to trickle down.

Donald Trump says his net worth is $10 billion. His tax proposal will save him just on the estate tax alone — close to $4 billion tax cut for himself — so we know what that’s about.

PAUL SOLMAN: But Hillary Clinton wants to raise taxes on people who are already productive.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: The wealthy in this country, the 1 percent have gotten richer and richer and richer. The people in this plant, the people in my neighborhood in Cleveland, the people in middle-class and upper-middle class suburbs haven’t done so well in the last 10 years or the last 20 years really.

And Hillary Clinton just wants to say they should pay their fair share, as they should, as they’ve gotten wealthier and wealthier, as they’ve enjoyed most of the tax breaks on carried interest and all those huge tax loopholes that save billionaires, billions of dollars, certainly hundreds of millions of dollars on their taxes. And she wants to close those loopholes, ask them to pay their fair share, and put that into building highways and bridges and water and sewer systems that will grow our economy.

We know that in this country, our best years economically were from the 1940s into the 1970s, when we had the best public works — we call it infrastructure today — in the history of the world. Highways, bridges, water and sewer, community colleges and medical research. We don’t do that the way we used to. Hillary Clinton wants to use those tax dollars coming from the wealthy, asking them to pay their fair share, so we can invest in public works, invest in that infrastructure.