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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson August 12, 2016

In economic speech, Hillary Clinton offers cherry-picked summary of her trade votes

During a high-profile speech on the economy in Warren, Mich., Hillary Clinton said that she would stand up for workers hurt by trade agreements -- an issue that her opponent, Donald Trump, has been hitting hard on the campaign trail.

"My message to every worker in Michigan and across America is this: I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership," she said. "I oppose it now, I'll oppose it after the election, and I'll oppose it as president. As a senator, I fought to defend New York's manufacturers and steel-makers from unfair Chinese trading practices. And I opposed the only multilateral trade deal that came before the Senate while I was there, because it didn't meet my high bar."

We have already given Clinton a Full Flop for switching her view on the Trans-Pacific Partnership from supportive to opposed. Here, we’ll look at whether Clinton is correct to say that she "opposed the only multilateral trade deal that came before the Senate while I was there." The statement glosses over the different types of trade agreements that exist and Clinton's past support for them. 

Clinton’s trade record

As we have previously noted, Clinton’s views on trade have zigzagged somewhat over the years.

"Some people are generally pro-trade or anti-trade. She’s case-by-case on trade," said Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, to the Washington Post in 2015.

As first lady, Clinton spoke favorably in the 1990s and in the early 2000s of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, signed by President Bill Clinton.

"Creating a free trade zone in North America — the largest free trade zone in the world — would expand U.S. exports, create jobs and ensure that our economy was reaping the benefits, not the burdens, of globalization. Although unpopular with labor unions, expanding trade opportunities was an important administration goal," she wrote in her 2003 memoir, Living History.

As a senator from New York, Clinton had the opportunity to vote on 10 trade deals. She voted no on the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) and a deal with Andean countries.

However -- and this was not reflected in Clinton’s speech -- Clinton actively voted for five bilateral trade deals during her tenure, namely Chile, Singapore, Australia, Morocco, and Oman. She also chose not to object to a unanimous consent vote on a sixth bilateral pact (Bahrain) and she said she supported two others that she never officially cast a vote on (Peru and Jordan) because they came up during her first presidential bid.

Here’s a summary of the 10 significant votes taken on trade deals during Clinton’s tenure in the Senate, which is the time frame she referenced in the speech:




Clinton’s vote


Trade Act of 2002 (includes Andean countries)*

Voted against**


Chile-United States

Voted for


Singapore-United States

Voted for


Australia-United States

Voted for


Featured Fact-check

Morocco-United States

Voted for


Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)

Voted against


Bahrain-United States

Voted for***


Oman-United States

Voted for


Peru-United States

Didn’t vote, supported in 2007


Jordan-United States

Didn’t vote, supported in 2005


* This deal is not included in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s list of free trade agreements, but contains many free trade provisions.

** This is a vote for "fast track authority" — allowing trade agreement to move through Congress without amendments or filibusters.

*** The free trade agreement with Bahrain passed by unanimous consent, not a recorded roll call vote.


So, to sum up, Clinton did indeed vote against one multilateral trade bill that came up while she was in the Senate -- CAFTA -- and voted against another bill that could be characterized as a multilateral trade deal, which was the Trade Act of 2002. Seen through this lens, these votes provide support for what she said in her speech.

But just outside that lens, the picture gets murkier. Clinton has tailored her claim so narrowly that it obscures the bigger picture.

Clinton explained her seemingly inconsistent positions in a 2005 speech to Congress: "The U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement included internationally recognized enforceable labor standards in the text of the agreement. Sadly, DR-CAFTA is a step backward."

While separate deals with Chile, Australia and Singapore similarly excluded labor rights standards, Clinton said she "supported these agreements despite these concerns because I believed the agreements would not harm the average working person in those nations."

In the meantime, we’ll note that as a presidential candidate in 2008, Clinton had varying opinions on various trade deals, and she changed her position on NAFTA. She called NAFTA "a mistake" and opposed pending deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. She reiterated her support for free trade with Peru on the campaign trail.

And as secretary of state, Clinton walked back her opposition to deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, and helped negotiate them as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As a presidential candidate in 2016, Clinton has reiterated her opposition to CAFTA and flip-flopped on her support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Clinton campaign told PolitiFact that she has been clear in the past that she's supported some deals and opposed others based on whether they meet certain standards. The campaign also argued that multilateral deals have a broader impact, making those votes the most important.

Our ruling

Clinton said, "I opposed the only multilateral trade deal that came before the Senate while I was there."

Clinton did oppose one multilateral deal (CAFTA) and opposed another that could be characterized as a multilateral deal (the Trade Act of 2002).

However, focusing only on multilateral agreements, as Clinton does, obscures her overall voting record on trade pacts while serving in the Senate. When it came to bilateral agreements, Clinton cast votes to support five of them, and she supported -- but never cast a formal vote for -- an additional three.

The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details, so we rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Hillary Clinton, economic speech in Warren, Mich., Aug. 11, 2016

NBC, Meet the Press, April 10, 2016

NBC, "After De-Escalation, the Debate Over Clinton's Qualifications Is Revived," April 8, 2016

NPR, "A Timeline Of Hillary Clinton's Evolution On Trade," April 21, 2015

Washington Post, "Hillary Clinton’s position on free trade? It’s (very) complicated," June 17, 2015

PolitiFact, "Clinton has changed on NAFTA," Feb. 25, 2008

Sunlight Foundation, "a speech in Congress by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)," June 30, 2005

PolitiFact, "A distinction without a difference," April 21, 2008

Los Angeles Times, "Clinton opposes trade pacts, but not all," April 12, 2008

New York Times, "Transcript: Democratic Debate in Las Vegas," Nov. 15, 2007

New York Times, "Clinton Says Yes to Peru Deal," Nov. 8, 2007

State Department, "Passage of Colombia, Panama, and South Korea Trade Agreements," Oct. 13, 2011

International Business Times, "Hillary Clinton Pushes Colombia Free Trade Agreement In Latest Email Dump," Feb. 26, 2016

Reuters, "Obama committed to South Korea trade deal: Clinton, April 16, 2011

Office of the United States Trade Representative, Free Trade Agreements, accessed April 10, 2016

Searches on and

Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy, U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, Feb. 28, 2003

Congressional Research Service, "Free Trade Agreements: Impact on U.S. Trade and Implications for U.S. Trade Policy," Feb. 26, 2014

Congressional Research Service, "The North American Free Trade Agreement," April 15, 2015

Email interview with Josh Schwerin, spokesman for Hillary Clinton, Aug. 12, 2016

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In economic speech, Hillary Clinton offers cherry-picked summary of her trade votes

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