RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We're about to hear from one of the most prominent critics of a U.S. trade deal. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership. She's against the plan promoted by a president from her own party.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It was President Obama who brought Senator Warren to prominence years ago. He appointed her to create consumer finance protections during the Great Recession. So you sense the president's displeasure when Senator Warren says this trade deal could endanger financial rules. Here's the president with Matt Bai of Yahoo! News.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
MATT BAI: Senator Warren said this week this pact could be used to roll back Dodd-Frank, which...
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: She's absolutely wrong.
INSKEEP: Dodd-Frank is shorthand for a financial reform law the president signed. The president rejects Senator Warren's concern that upcoming trade deals could let foreign corporations undermine those rules.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
OBAMA: This is pure speculation. She and I both taught law school. And, you know, one of the things you do as a law professor is you spin out hypotheticals. And this is all hypothetical, speculative.
INSKEEP: That's the president of Senator Warren. So we called Senator Warren.
Is he correct that your objections are largely hypothetical?
SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, I don't think they are hypothetical. I think I've been out there just talking about the facts. Look, I have three objections. The first is that the president is asking us to vote to grease the skids on a trade deal that has largely been negotiated but that is still held in secret. The second is that we know that corporations under this deal are going to get sue countries for regulations they don't like, and that the decisions are not going to be made by courts, they're going to be made by private lawyers. And the third problem is that he wants us to vote on a six-year, grease-the-skids deal.
INSKEEP: By grease the skids, Senator Elizabeth Warren is referring to a vote the Senate may take this week. It's a vote to give the president fast-track negotiating authority. That means the administration could finalize its deal with a dozen Pacific Rim nations and go on to seek trade deals elsewhere. The results would then go to Congress for an up or down vote with no amendments. That's the fast-track. It's common for trade deals, but Senator Warren does not favor it in this case because of her other objections.
Now, you said something about financial reforms there, Senator Warren. You have raised the concern that this trade deal could be used to weaken financial reforms in the United States. I think the average person might wonder what one has to do with the other. How would that work?
WARREN: Well, as Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew has said, that in the negotiations with the Europeans, which will be the next trade deal after this one, there's been a lot of pressure to try to weaken financial regulations. The former assistant secretary of the treasury, Michael Barr, has made the same point. These are people from the Obama administration. Now, President Obama says, but I won't do that in a trade deal, and I believe the president. I truly do. The problem is, he's president for only 18 more months. And the deal that we're being asked to vote on this week greases the skids for trade deals for six years.
INSKEEP: The president said something else, though, which I will try to summarize here. He said that U.S. regulations, financial regulations just to give an example, might be vulnerable under some trade agreement if they were unfair to foreign companies but that United States relations, by and large, are fair. They treat everyone the same, and therefore, they're just not going to be vulnerable. He was quite absolute about that.
WARREN: Well, who will decide what is fair is not an American court. That would be decided by private, corporate lawyers, who get paid by big corporations, to sit and decide when they sue countries whether or not those big corporations have been treated fairly. And let's be clear one, once those private corporate lawyers make a decision, there is no appeal.
INSKEEP: You're talking about the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, a sort of arbitration mechanism that would be part of this deal when there are disputes between countries. But isn't that pretty normal with trade deals? You have to have some mechanism to resolve that.
WARREN: You know, there are mechanisms for resolving it. What's happening with ISDS is that the world has changed. Those things were in place, gosh, for a long time dating back to the 1950s. But the corporate lawyers figured out how to make these things very valuable for big corporations. In 2012 alone, there were 53 ISDS disputes brought. And be clear about the nature of them. Egypt tried to raised its minimum wage, got sued by a corporation. Australia and Uruguay tried to implement antismoking laws, got sued by Phillip Morris. Canada tried to deny a mining company a drilling permit off the coast of Nova Scotia to protect their environment and their fishermen, got sued by an outside company and lost. So what really happens here is that big, multinational corporations can look around and say, I don't like those regulations. I could make more money if I could beat down new regulations.
INSKEEP: Senator Warren, you began by raising the concern about the secrecy of this arrangement. It's being negotiated in secret. You're being asked to vote on fast-track authority before a text is made public. Is it true that you've had - you as a lawmaker, though, have had more no access to this?
WARREN: On no, I have been able to go to a special, secured room. I can't take any electronic devices - no computer, no iPhone. I can't even walk out with paper notes. I can go and read about the agreement, but I cannot come out in public and talk about any of the specifics. The press can't see it. The public can't see it. But I will tell you this - there are some folks who've seen it. There are 28 working groups that have helped shape the trade deal. And in those 28 working groups, there are more than 500 people. It turns out that 85 percent of them are either corporate executives - senior corporate executives or lobbyists for the industries that are being affected. The way I see this, that's a tilted process, and a tilted process yields a tilted result.
INSKEEP: How do you think President Obama has wound up so far from you on this issue?
WARREN: I truly don't know.
INSKEEP: That's Elizabeth Warren, Democratic senator from Massachusetts. Senators are expected to debate fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership this week.