Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden defended his vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on Monday during a campaign swing through New Hampshire.
"Fair trade is important," Biden told the Associated Press. "Not free trade. Fair trade. And I think that back in the time during the Clinton administration, it made sense at the moment."
Biden did not address his support for other free trade pacts, like President Barack Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he touted as recently as 2016. There was also no mention of his 2000 vote in support of granting China permanent normal trade relations status—a move widely seen as responsible for the country's current trade dominance.
It is unclear if Biden's prior support for free trade will undercut the ‘Middle-Class Joe' image his campaign is trying to cultivate. Since announcing his presidential bid, Biden has pitched himself as the only candidate that can entice disaffected blue-collar voters back into the Democrat fold. Such voters are pivotal for any strategy Democrats have to win back Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan in 2020.
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and some of the more liberal Democrats running for president have been quick to point out Biden's free trade past.
"When people take a look at my record versus Vice President Biden's record, I helped lead the fight against NAFTA; he voted for NAFTA," Sanders said during a CNN interview last month. "I helped lead the fight against [permanent normal trade relations] with China; he voted for it. I strongly opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership; he supported it."
The former vice president's defense of NAFTA comes as the United States and China are locked in a rapidly escalating trade war. President Donald Trump, who won the White House in part because of his vehement opposition to free trade, has accused China of reneging on commitments it made to rectify its trade imbalance with the U.S.
As the trade war has heated up, Biden has repeatedly downplayed the threat China and its tactics pose to the American worker. Biden even went to the extent of claiming China is "not competition for us" during a recent campaign stop in Iowa.