Obama hits Elizabeth Warren on trade as Senate debate opens

As the Senate prepares to debate his trade agenda, President Barack Obama is sharpening his criticisms of a vocal opponent on the left.

In a weekend interview with Yahoo Politics, the president said Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is factually wrong and politically motivated in fighting his efforts to obtain “fast track” authority to negotiate trade agreements that Congress can accept or reject but not change.

“Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else,” Obama said. “She’s got a voice that she wants to get out there. And I understand that. And on most issues, she and I deeply agree. On this one, though, her arguments don’t stand the test of fact and scrutiny.”

Obama didn’t suggest that he’s not a politician also. But his comments may have been aimed at liberal activists who tend to see Warren as a crusader for the working class, and somewhat above politics. She entered the Senate at age 63 after years of battling for consumers and criticizing Wall Street abuses.

The Senate faces a key procedural vote on the trade bill Tuesday, and full debate can’t proceed unless 60 of the 100 members agree to it.

Obama said Warren is particularly wrong in criticizing an element of trade deals called investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS. The process allows foreign companies to sue national governments in special tribunals if the companies feel they were harmed by violations of free-trade agreements. Warren and others say ISDS can let multinational corporations seek huge payments from countries while sidestepping traditional courts.

Obama disputed that in the Yahoo interview.

“There is no chance, zero chance, that the U.S. would be sued on something like our financial regulations, and on food safety, and on the various environmental regulations that we have in place, mainly because we treat everybody the same,” he said. “We treat our own companies the same way we treat somebody else’s companies.”