Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt charged Wednesday that his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination have been "running for political cover" by weakening their stands on the trade issue since the stock market crash last month.
"They all sound like born-again free traders," Gephardt complained about the five other Democratic candidates. Gephardt has taken a tough stand on trade--as embodied in the Gephardt amendment, providing for retaliation against countries that engage in unfair trading practices against the U.S.--the cornerstone of his candidacy.
In remarks prepared for a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, Gephardt showed that even in the changing economic landscape, he remains determined to hang tough on the issue. Before the Oct. 19 market plunge, he said, his rivals had supported "a mixture of old-style, shortsighted protection for specific industries."
The big sell-off intensified concern about a recession, and about the risk that a tougher U.S. trade policy might cripple the economy, Gephardt said. As a result, he suggested, his opponents have softened their positions on trade. "A few months ago my fellow candidates were eager to talk about trade," he said. "Now they don't want to talk about it--they're running for cover."
He added: "Unfortunately, there is no cover for the workers who are losing their jobs to unfair trade practices." He cited the closing last week of an auto plant in Framingham, Mass., which he said cost 3,700 jobs--"3,700 more victims of the do-nothing approach to foreign trade barriers."