Hillary Clinton on Friday unveiled a “new bargain” to create good-paying jobs, aiming the proposal directly at the white, working class voters who have been flocking to her current — and possibly future — rival.
Clinton’s pitch to disenfranchised voters drawn to the messages of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, had one of the most prominent examples of American manufacturing decline as its backdrop: Detroit. Standing in a warehouse at Detroit Manufacturing Systems — which she noted was the largest woman-owned business in the state — Clinton highlighted the importance of treating workers “like assets to be invested in, not costs to be cut.”
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“These days our biggest companies turn eight or nine out of every 10 dollars they make back to shareholders as dividends or stock buybacks,” she said. “They’re also sitting on huge cash reserves, often stashed in foreign tax havens. That’s money they’re not using to train their workers or give them a raise.”
Clinton reiterated her support for a tax credit for companies that share profits with their workers. “Workers are being left behind,” she said, noting that under her husband, President Bill Clinton, the typical family’s income rose by $10,000. “More money in the hands of working people helps everyone, including businesses,” Clinton said. “That’s why…we should provide incentives for companies that invest in high quality training for employees.”
Clinton’s carrot-and-stick economic proposals – rewarding corporations for investing in employees but also punishing companies that outsource jobs or moving headquarters abroad – signaled her pivot to the Rust Belt, the next battleground in the Democratic nomination fight.
After cleaning up in the Southern states that voted on Super Tuesday, Clinton is now gearing up for a series of primaries where Sanders is expected to be more competitive: Ohio, Michigan and Missouri, all states with large white, working class populations. Those Midwestern locales also figure to be Trump country – places populated with working class voters who suffered because of trade deals like NAFTA and now drawn to his talk about fighting China and its currency manipulation, as well as his promises to bring jobs back by forcing companies to return their headquarters to the United States.
On Friday, Clinton also pre-empted attacks on her record by putting a clear marker down on where she stands on trade agreements.
“I won’t support any agreement unless it helps create good jobs at higher wages for American workers and protects our national security,” she said.
The Sanders campaign has been hitting Clinton hard on the issue for the past two days. On Friday, ahead of Clinton’s speech, the Vermont senator released a transcript from a May 2012 address, in which then-Secretary of State Clinton told an Indian audience that outsourcing jobs benefited the economy.
“It’s part of our economic relationship with India,” she said of outsourcing jobs, “and I think that there are advantages with it that have certainly benefited many parts of our country.”
In the clip, she also conceded there were disadvantages, and that America needed to focus on improving the job skills of its own workers at home. Sanders’ camp, which has been critical of Clinton’s support for trade deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, described her jobs speech Friday as an attempt to distance herself from her previous stances.
“They’re trying to remove her as far as possible from her record on trade, which is abysmal,” said Sanders’ senior strategist Tad Devine. “She’s going to argue she’s good on manufacturing when she’s supported trade policies that have ruined manufacturing.”
But longtime Clinton advisers insisted that the Democratic frontrunner was strong on manufacturing — they note that as first lady, she was a voice in the room opposing NAFTA even when her husband was for it, and they describe her as “thoroughly obsessed” with saving factories when she served as senator from New York.
“She’s making clear that her new bargain with corporations is going to be centered around economic patriotism,” said Gene Sperling, a former Obama and Bill Clinton adviser who serves as an outside economic adviser to the campaign. “You are called out and rewarded for investing in jobs, workers and long-term growth — and you’ll face a much stiffer tax regime if you’re focused on inversions, tax avoidance, and cutting and running.”
On Friday, Clinton said she does not support the TPP trade deal, “but our policies can’t just be about stopping trade abuses and outsourcing — they also have to be about creating jobs and higher wages at home.”
Her latest address on economic policy builds on speeches Clinton gave last year about combating short-term thinking by increasing taxes on short-term investors. But the new frame of a “new bargain” is a more direct appeal than before to struggling working class voters who are now days away from casting their primary ballots.
In formulating her latest speech on the economy, Clinton sought advice from some of her usual suspects: Sperling, as well as Neera Tanden, her former top policy adviser who now serves as the president of the Center for American Progress. Clinton also sought input from Michael Wessel, a top trade policy expert and a former adviser to House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt; Ron Bloom, a former Obama adviser on manufacturing and the auto industry; and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a progressive whose name is often thrown around as a possible vice presidential pick.
Her Detroit speech notably called for a “clawback” of tax benefits and additional incentives for companies that outsource jobs overseas. But economic experts said most important to working class voters was her discussion of treating workers fairly.
“The need to appeal to more working class voters is why she is releasing this in Detroit and calling for a new bargain,” said Tamara Draut, vice president of policy and research at the left-leaning think tank Demos. “The notion that workers are really costs to be minimized has become so pervasive in hourly wage jobs, it has lead to a ubiquitous feeling of disrespect. They don’t feel like they’re valued for the work they do.”
She added: “It’s a push from the grassroots and an acknowledgement that Sanders seems to be doing better with white working class voters.”
Indeed, in states where the population is 80 percent white or higher, Sanders has been favored to beat Clinton. States where the white population is 65 percent or less have so far proved to be a lock for Clinton. But Michigan, Ohio and Missouri fall into a gray zone — with 65 to 80 percent of the population being white, and they are expected to be competitive Democratic primaries.
Michigan, in particular, has taken on greater electoral significance because of the water crisis in Flint, a largely African-American city that Clinton has spotlighted and repeatedly emphasized. Clinton operatives are quick to note that a win in delegate-rich Michigan would not likely change the nomination math for Sanders – Mississippi votes the same day and Clinton is expected to win there — but it would take on greater symbolism for Sanders.
The importance of the state meant Sanders was in full pushback mode on Friday, campaigning to the north in Traverse City. “If the people of Michigan want to make a decision about which candidate stood with workers against corporate America and against these disastrous trade agreements,” the Vermont senator told a crowd of over 2,000 supporters, “that candidate is Bernie Sanders.”