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Tom Vilsack, Photo by Jerry Hagstrom

Vilsack: TPP decision is up to Congress

PHILADELPHIA — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the prospect of Donald Trump as president is so troubling, he will work with Hillary Clinton and “will be happy to do whatever the campaign wants me to do,” including the dishes and laundry.

Vilsack, one of the finalists for Clinton’s vice presidential running mate before she chose Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said he has already gotten over whatever disappointment he felt in not being selected, and considers Kaine a solid choice.

He also said he believes the fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is up to Congress, not President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, and declined to discuss any role he might play in a Clinton administration.

TPP

Asked how, as a Cabinet officer, he would handle congressional approval of the TPP agreement, which President Obama wants, and Clinton and Trump oppose, Vilsack said he thinks that issue is now up to Congress.

The “responsibility” for TPP’s fate “now is neither the candidate’s nor, to a degree, the president’s,” Vilsack said. “It is Congress’ responsibility. They need to make a decision, they need to share with the country what that decision is.”

He said, “It would be one thing if it were in the process of being negotiated,” but now that the agreement has been completed, members of Congress “should make the call.”

In recent months, Vilsack has campaigned vigorously for TPP.

Kaine had spoken positively of TPP, but he now says he would not favor the 12-nation agreement in its current form.

Asked whether he was disappointed Clinton did not choose him as her running mate, Vilsack said his father-in-law, who, like Vilsack, was a trial lawyer, told him, “‘you celebrate your victories or mourn your losses for 24 hours, and then you get back to cases.’ I cut if off at 12 hours, given the seriousness of this case.”

Vilsack said Clinton made a “great choice” for her running mate, and that he had sent Kaine an email wishing him well.

“You always are humbled by the fact that you are even considered,” Vilsack said, noting Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., had considered him as a running mate when he ran for president in 2004.

This year’s vice presidential selection process was much more public, Vilsack said, as he acknowledged a Washington Post report that he had traveled to Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, N.Y., for an interview.

Vilsack also said he is pleased his former communications aide, Matt Paul, will be Kaine’s campaign chief of staff.

Paul, he noted, has “literally worked his way up” from being a volunteer in Vilsack’s Iowa gubernatorial campaign in 1998 to being his communications director after he was elected governor, and then working with Vilsack at U.S. Department of Agriculture before moving to run Clinton’s campaign in the Iowa caucuses before joining her communications staff at her Brooklyn headquarters.

Being Kaine’s chief of staff is “a great opportunity for Matt, well deserved” and “he won’t disappoint” the campaign, Vilsack said.

His future

Asked about speculation that he would make a good White House chief of staff for Clinton, Vilsack said, “My sole focus right now is that Secretary Clinton becomes President Clinton. No one should think about what happens after.”

The campaign, he said, needs to be approached “with a level of passion and energy. This is an historic battle.”

Asked whether his wife, Christie, wants to stay in Washington or move back to Iowa, Vilsack said, “One of the things that you learn during the process that we’ve gone through in the last few weeks is how fortunate you are to be married to someone who is incredibly supportive and incredibly vested in you and your future.”

“It extends to family and beyond to so many people who express support and concern,” he said. “Christie has just been amazing. When we got married almost 43 years ago, I am pretty sure she didn’t expect this life, and neither did I. I would not have had this life but for her.”

Vilsack said he is “feeling good about the Clinton campaign” because the speeches at the Democratic convention helped unify the party and also contrasted Clinton with Trump. First Lady Michelle Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., were some of the speakers.

Vilsack said his strong feelings about Trump begin with Trump’s negative view of the world and the U.S. Vilsack said he remembered listening to then-President Ronald Reagan’s talk of a “shining city on a Hill,” and compared that with Trump’s talk about the U.S. as a problem-laden country.

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