NAFTA and the presidential campaign

February 28, 2008 9:49:38 PM PST
The primaries in Ohio and Texas are just five days away. And in Ohio, where factories have been closed and workers laid off, there is a lot of criticism of the North America Free Trade Agreement that made it easier for U.S. companies to relocate factories and jobs to Mexico.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been courting Ohio voters by speaking out against NAFTA, and blaming each other for favoring the trade agreement.

Mark Matthews spoke to the man who was President Clinton's Labor Secretary when NAFTA was approved. But before we get to Robert Reich, here is the background on the back and forth.

When the Obama campaign accused her of calling NAFTA a "boom" to the economy, Hillary Clinton was upset.

"Shame on you Barack Obama," said Senator Hillary Clinton (D) New York.

Fact check: She didn't call NAFTA a "boom" that was newspaper description of what she had said.

"I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning," said Senator Clinton.

That's what Clinton said in the Ohio debate on Tuesday. But as moderator Tim Russert noted she's on record praising NAFTA.

"This was something that you wrote about as a real success for your husband, you said it was good on balance for America in 2004 and now you're in Ohio and you're words are much different Senator the record is very clear," said debate moderator Tim Russert.

"Well you don't have all the record," said Senator Clinton.

Clinton says her entire record shows she thinks NAFTA needs to be renegotiated.

Robert Reich was President Clinton's Labor Secretary when Bill Clinton successfully pushed NAFTA through Congress. Did the first lady support it?

"The first lady had reservations about NAFTA, but not on policy grounds; she didn't like the timing. She wanted NAFTA to come after healthcare instead of before healthcare, because she was afraid of losing support, using up political capital on NAFTA that she needed to pass healthcare," Said former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

ABC7's Mark Matthews: "She raised no other thing on your recollection?"

I was right in the middle of the debate over NAFTA. Her soul concern that she expressed inside the White House, at least when cabinet members were around, I don't know what they whisper to each other in terms of pillow talk abviously. But in terms of capital return, the sole concern was the timing," said Reich.

Like Clinton, Barack Obama has praised NAFTA and criticized it. And after Hillary Clinton was grilled on that subject during the debate, Obama agreed with her answer.

"I will make sure that we renegotiate the same way that Senator Clinton talked about and I think actually senator Clinton's answer on this one is right," said Senator Barack Obama (D) Illinois.

Without equivocation On Thursday morning, John McCain said NAFTA has been a good deal.

"I think it's been good for our economy it's been good for the Canadian economy and I think it's been good for the Mexican economy," said Senator John McCain (R) Arizona.

President Bush weighed in today telling reporters that NAFTA has spread prosperity on both sides of the border. But then again -- he's not on the ballot in Ohio.