A leaked email from WikiLeaks’ Podesta treasure trove indicated that Democrats were stuck between “a rock and a hard place” when it came to deciding how to handle the controversial federal GMO labeling bill that President Obama signed into law this summer.
The dilemma? How to make Hillary look good, avoid giving Bernie extra attention for being awesome, and still please industry supporters.
On March 14, 2016, Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm (who is also Chairman for the GMO labeling campaign known as “Just Label It”) sent an email, which he considered urgent to John Podesta, Chairman of Clinton’s presidential campaign. The email leak brought to light Hirshberg’s analysis of many lawmakers and of Hillary Clinton’s now infamous habit of maintaining sometimes opposing public and private policies.
— Jon Entine (@JonEntine) October 13, 2016
According to statements in the leaked email, the actual chairman of the Just Label It campaign was trying to give Clinton a leg-up with his knowledge of what matters to his customers while Michigan DNC superdelegate Senator Debbie Stabenow was trying to figure out how to work with all sides on the federal GMO labeling law.
— Agri-Pulse (@agripulse) July 6, 2016
Hirshberg told Podesta in March that a major downside of passing the federal bill that would nullify Vermont’s labeling law was how it would affect the presidential nominating elections. Hirshberg told Podesta that Sen. Stabenow, who eventually cast her superdelegate vote for Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, was worried that the bill seeing action during the primary season would “unfortunately give Bernie a major PR, fundraising and political opportunity.”
Hirshberg told Podesta that farm state Democrats were under “enormous pressure from conventional Ag interests to come up with some kind of acceptable solution that pre-empts Vermont’s and other states’ laws from taking effect.” He explained that Stabenow felt she had “no choice but to keep pushing for something that is less damaging than [Roberts’ legislation] but which will still fall short of a real path to mandatory labeling.”
— Senate Ag Democrats (@SenateAgDems) July 6, 2016
Hirshberg informed Podesta that even though the bill was a bad bill in his mind, Democratic Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack would undoubtedly tell President Obama to sign the bill into law. Vilsack’s support of the industry-approved bill was not unexpected because Vilsack was once named “Governor of the Year” by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, according to Mother Jones. Vilsack pledged his own superdelegate vote to Hillary Clinton way back in August of 2015, according to The Gazette. There was no way that Vilsack would tell the President to veto the bill, Hirshberg feared.
“Unfortunately, I cannot persuade Tom on this point, despite the ample evidence to the contrary so there is no doubt that he will recommend that the President sign even a bad bill if it gets to his desk.”
Hirshberg told Podesta that Sen. Stabenow of Michigan led the efforts to push the bill forward, but had to work with the Republicans to get some kind of compromise because she knew it would otherwise be in conflict with the Organic Food Production Act and National Organic Program, the email indicated. The email revealed that it pained Stabenow to give Bernie Sanders any extra opportunity to prove that he was a hero to the populace, but too much was at stake with the bill.
Hirshberg decided to help Podesta help Hillary Clinton by suggesting a way that Hillary could use the bill’s controversy to her advantage.
“Proposed Solution: If I am right about all of this, then there are really only two ways for us to avoid delivering Bernie a giant opportunity to call for a national rally of 100,000 angry citizens in DC and dominate the media with this example of all that is wrong and impotent with the Obama/Clinton approach.”
Podesta was told to make sure that shortly after the bill was introduced by Roberts, Hillary should state publicly that she opposes the bill and that she feels strongly that “consumers, and particularly mothers absolutely have the right to know. ”
Podesta was warned that it would end up looking like Clinton opposed her own superdelegate, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, but stressed, “failure to do this, or to allow Bernie to do it first, will only feed his narrative and demonstrate that she is a hostage to big food and chemical companies.”
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) July 6, 2016
Hirshberg said that Stabenow agrees with his suggestion to allow Clinton to look as though she was opposing legislation Vilsack and other Democrats supported by publicly supporting the people’s right to easily know what’s in their food instead.
“Ask her yourself, but you will see that Debbie agrees with me on this.”
Hirshberg then suggested another manipulation, in which, President Obama, who Hirshberg had already suggested would probably sign even a bad GMO labeling bill, would tell the Senate that he would actually veto it as written. This would get senate Democrats off the hook with their industry supporters and stall any ability for Sanders’ to gain high ground with voters during the primary season over GMO labels, Hirshberg pointed out.
“This would have the effect of giving farm state Democrats the courage to not cave in to Roberts or the compromise and would also serve to prevent Bernie from claiming the high ground and trying to paint HRC into a corner. Again, I am happy to talk in the am if you want. I urge you to take this very seriously because I am certain I am right about Bernie and his followers, and we simply must avoid handing him this plum.”
Of course, just as Hirshberg suggested, Hillary did come out publicly saying she opposed the bill and even that she was proud of the senate Democrats for stopping the bill, which the New York Times indicated the next day was only a stall in the bill, given that Senate Democrats had already agreed to work with the industry on compromise wording. The stoppage of the bill was never going to be permanent, it seems.
Congress shouldn’t block states from giving families information about their food—glad the senate stopped this bill. https://t.co/lSq9gnbQZl
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 16, 2016
— #FreeJulian (@Funkspunk4) October 11, 2016
After the Clinton tweet, Hirshberg, of Stonyfield Farm and the Just Label It campaign, sent another email thanking them for Hillary’s tweet.
“It is actually a very big deal and I already have used it to stop a lot of whiny Bernie people cold in their tracks.”
The Clinton campaign wrote back with a thank you of their own for Hirshberg’s suggestion on how to essentially manipulate Sanders’ supporters.
“Thanks Gary! It was thanks to your initial emails on this that we got the machinery in action and produced this tweet.”
Publicly, Just Label It opposed the bill’s passage. Ultimately, though, Clinton was able to steal some of Bernie’s thunder during the primary season, not that very many Berniecrats actually believed Clinton. Even by March, it was a running gag that Clinton was habitually copying Bernie’s platform to gain votes.
While Hillary Clinton was able to bask in some public approval for her opposition to the bill (thanks to the apparent heads up on how to manipulate GMO-labeling proponents from Hirshberg), early this summer, Democrats ultimately helped passed the bill that overrode states’ rights to pass their own stronger food labeling laws.
Of course, Bernie Sanders kept his word to actually oppose the Roberts-Stabenow bill that Hillary Clinton supposedly opposed.
[Featured Image by Paul Sancya/AP Images]