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Week In Politics: GOP Presidential Field Expands

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. President Obama's campaign for a free trade deal with Asia had him stepping onto politically treacherous turf yesterday. The president visited the Oregon headquarters of Nike, the footwear company that's famous for Air Jordans and also for making its shoes in factories overseas, mostly in Asia, that have been accused of harsh labor practices. The president's push for the Trans-Pacific partnership makes global trade an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us.

Mara, thanks for being with us.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

SIMON: And a free trade deal is a tough sell in some quarters of the president's own party, isn't it?

LIASSON: It certainly is. It's an extremely tough sell. And at Nike, he really blasted Democrats. He said they were just plain wrong about the trade deal. He says it'll create jobs and help American companies sell their products. You know, Hillary Clinton is in a very tough spot on this. She knows that the Democrat - the rest of the Democratic presidential campaign field is against this. The base of the Democratic Party hates this. Labor hates this. She in the past has supported trade deals but she's hedged on this one. She's only said whatever deal is made has to have appropriate safeguards for labor and the environment. Obama says it does, Democrats say it doesn't. At some point, she's going to have to make a decision and all of the Republican candidates are for free trade with the exception of Mike Huckabee.

SIMON: Who? The former governor of Arkansas, of course, and Fox News personality who announced - he was one of three Republicans this week who officially announced their candidacy for president.

LIASSON: That's right. Huckabee is getting into the race for the second time. He really has an unusual profile for Republican. He's more like an old-fashioned Southern Democrat - very conservative on social issues but populist on economic issues. Carly Fiorina, the former executive of HP, got in the race this week, so did Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon. They join Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, all freshmen senators, new younger faces in the GOP. So the Republican field is getting bigger and bigger and we still haven't heard yet from Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, or Jeb Bush, who are leading in most of the primary state polls.

SIMON: And let me ask an obvious question about former Governor Bush. He hasn't announced his candidacy yet but he sure seems to be raising money hand over fist, doesn't he?

LIASSON: He's just Hoover-ing up the money. His super PAC, Right to Rise, is not only on track to raise $100 million in the first quarter of this year - which is a historic amount that would break all records - but Bush has also told donors that he's going to use Right to Rise to do a lot of things that campaigns usually do, like make ads and do the media strategy. And in the end, his super PAC is going to raise and spend more money than his official campaign will and it will probably have three-to-four times as much money as his rivals. You know, super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. And unlike presidential campaigns, on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton will, like President Obama, take super PAC money. But unlike President Obama, she will now appear at PAC events even though the law bars her from actually asking for money at these super PAC events. So welcome to the virtually unregulated world of post-citizens united campaigning.

SIMON: And Hillary Clinton made some news this week with some pointed statements about immigration reform, didn't she?

LIASSON: She did. She said the bottom line for her is that immigration reform has to have a path to citizenship, not just legalization. She did this with Jeb Bush in mind. He's been the most moderate pro-immigration reform Republican. He's for a path to legalization. That's at odds with the anti-amnesty base of his party and she wants to widen that goal for him so he can't get an edge with his manic voters.

SIMON: NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks very much for being with us. Talk to you later.

LIASSON: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.