Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sparred over trade deals past and present in the early moments of their first debate Monday night.
Trump has criticized both the North American Free Trade Agreement approved under President Bill Clinton and the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by President Barack Obama’s administration.
Hillary Clinton, of course, was part of the Obama administration as secretary of state, and Trump said she’s culpable for supporting what he said was a bad deal.
"You called it the gold standard," Trump said of the agreement, known as TPP. "You called it the gold standard of trade deals. You said it’s the finest deal you’ve ever seen."
For her part, Clinton rebutted that she at one time thought it could be the gold standard of trade deals before it was finished negotiated, but became disenchanted once it was finalized.
"I did say I hoped it would be a good deal," she said.
She similarly defended herself on this point during her primary campaign against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
So what did Clinton say about TPP?
Back in 2012 when she was leading the State Department, Clinton was pretty effusive in her support of the deal. While in Australia, Clinton delivered remarks on the general topic of the U.S.-Australia relationship. Here’s everything she said about the TPP in that address, with the "gold standard" comment in bold.
"So it's fair to say that our economies are entwined, and we need to keep upping our game both bilaterally and with partners across the region through agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. Australia is a critical partner. This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field. And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world's total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment."
At that point, it seems clear Clinton is saying the TPP sets the gold standard. She didn’t say she "hoped" it would.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung pointed to this statement in Australia to defend his candidate’s statement.
Other comments around the same time echoed similar assuredness that the TPP would meet that high bar. In November 2012 remarks in Singapore, she encouraged all nations "willing to meet 21st century standards as embodied in the TPP" to join the deal.
"The so-called TPP will lower barriers, raise standards, and drive long-term growth across the region. It will cover 40 percent of the world's total trade and establish strong protections for workers and the environment," she said, adding that it would result in better jobs with better wages and working conditions.
She did not say it was "the finest deal" she’d ever seen. But here are some of the other words Clinton used to describe the TPP before she left the State Department in 2013: "exciting," "innovative," "ambitious," "groundbreaking," "cutting-edge," "high-quality" and "high standard."
Now, at that point, the deal was still being negotiated. And even before it was finalized, she started to temper her expectations for the deal as the campaign drew near.
"Because TPP negotiations are still ongoing, it makes sense to reserve judgment until we can evaluate the final proposed agreement. It’s safe to say the TPP won’t be perfect -- no deal negotiated among a dozen countries ever will be -- but its higher standards, if implemented and enforced, should benefit American businesses and workers."
More recently, after the deal was finalized last year and presented for Congress to approve, Clinton changed her position and now says she opposes it.
In the past when asked about her wording, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill noted that the "gold standard" comment was made during negotiations and because they were conducted in secret, we don’t know if the final deal is dramatically different than it was in 2012. It’s worth pointing out, too, that as secretary of state, she spoke as a representative of the Obama administration, which was and remains wholeheartedly in favor of the deal.
Trump said Clinton called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the "gold standard" of trade deals. Clinton did use that language in 2012 when discussing TPP in Australia. And unlike her rebuttal, she didn’t couch it by saying she "hoped" it would be the gold standard. It’s worth noting that at this point the deal was still under negotiation and because that was done behind closed doors, there’s no way to know how much it changed. Before the final version came out, she advocated more of a wait-and-see approach.
We rate Trump’s statement Mostly True.