China-WTO Bill Gets the Full NAFTA Treatment

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Two terms and a hundred scandals after a young Bill Clinton summoned a parade of former presidents and luminaries to help him push the NAFTA trade pact through an ambivalent Congress, the great plugging sound is back — this time to get China into the WTO. On Monday, it was a letter of support signed by Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George Bush the elder, and a grave nod from Alan Greenspan. Tuesday it was Carter, Ford, Henry Kissinger and James Baker alongside Clinton and Gore in an East Room press-fest to tout the wondrous effects free trade will have on the Big Red One — and on American business. Democratization, capitalization, improved human rights in China, more jobs and less trade deficit for the U.S.: All the rosiest outlooks were on display, including the one about how a few decades of free trade could very well avert Cold War II or World War III. It was a show of full-throated support from across the political spectrum for what Clinton envisions as his last big thing.

Now for Congress. "Unlike with NAFTA, it's a Republican Congress this time, and free trade is a natural GOP issue," says TIME Washington correspondent Jay Branegan. "They've made a major concession to Clinton by agreeing to vote on this as soon as May 22, mainly because most of them want to claim this victory too." But the fact that it's China this time loses a lot of right-wing Republicans over human rights and nuclear spying. So Branegan says the vote may hinge on how many Democrats Clinton can hang on to, which means somehow convincing the labor crowd that following free-trade Bill — again — is in their best interests. And that's where November comes in. "Clinton is making the case that a weakened President, which Clinton would very much be if he loses this, would be bad for Democrats' hopes of recapturing Congress," Branegan says. "A lot of Big Labor's national leaders are listening to that." Smart money right now: A very close vote swings Clinton's way. Just think of what that'll do for Henry Kissinger's legacy.