Labor union leaders accused Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) of "betrayal" after she announced Saturday that she has switched positions and now supports congressional approval of fast-track authority for President Barack Obama to negotiate a trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Rice announced her new position in an op-ed in The Hill, a Washington paper, in which she conceded she might face a "political cost" for her decision, which breaks ranks with other Democrats representing Long Island.
"The congresswoman has decided to flip-flop and betray her constituents . . . Her betrayal will not be forgotten," said New York State AFL-CIO president Mario Cilento.
Working Families Party director Bill Lipton said, "We are outraged that Rep. Rice would break a promise she made to Long Island working families."
Rice Saturday responded, "I'm not afraid to do what's right for the working families and small businesses in my district, even if it means going against political allies. If they want to come after me and that's the price I have to pay to help more people find good jobs and help our businesses succeed in the global economy, I'll pay it any day."
In her op-ed, Rice acknowledged she had signed a letter in January that opposed giving the president "almost unfettered power" to negotiate the kind of trade deal that "in too many instances has led to the exploitation of the American worker."
At that time, Rice says now, she wasn't confident they would be protected. But "after more than five months of trade briefings, reviews of classified trade documents, and extensive conversations with those brokering a potential Trans-Pacific Partnership, my confidence has changed," she wrote.
Rice met with Obama as part of a small group in April and talked with him by phone a couple of weeks ago, her spokesman Coleman Lamb said.
"The president had made a compelling case," Rice wrote.
Rice called labor leaders Friday to explain her position, Lamb said.
In his statement Saturday, Cilento argued against the trade-deal authority by citing the adverse effects on workers of past trade agreements such as NAFTA. "The last thing we can afford is another bad deal that lowers wages and outsources jobs," he said.
Anticipating that argument, Rice wrote, "The fast-track legislation recently passed by the Senate outlines unprecedented requirements to address the worker protection problems of NAFTA. It sets high labor and environmental standards and ensures that trade sanctions can be imposed on any country that fails to meet these marks."
New York's Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, voted against the Senate bill. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) said he opposes fast-track authority. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) supports it. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has not announced his position.