Thursday, March 17, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (1)

Rob Portman has his work cut out for him

The Bush appointments just keep on coming. Reuters reports that Bush has picked his next U.S. Trade Representative:

U.S. President George W. Bush said Thursday he has selected Rep. Rob Portman, a seven-term Republican congressman from Ohio, to be next U.S. trade representative.

"As a member of the House (of Representatives) leadership, Rob has shown he can bring together people of differing views to get things done," Bush said at a White House event to announce Portman's nomination.

The surprise choice, which must be confirmed by the Senate, comes as the White House faces strong opposition in Congress to one of its key trade initiatives, a new free trade pact with five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.

Here's the complete text of Bush's announcement. Both the President and Rep. Portman made nice sounds on trade expansion:

BUSH: When he is confirmed by the Senate, Rob Portman will build on Ambassador Zoellick's achievements. I've asked him to take on a bold agenda. We need to continue to open markets abroad by pursuing bilateral free trade agreements with partners around the world. We need to finish our work to establish a free trade area of the Americas, which will become the largest free trade zone in the world. We need to complete the Doha round negotiations within the World Trade Organization to reduce global barriers to trade. We must continue to vigorously enforce the trade laws on the books so that American businesses and workers are competing on a level playing field....

PORTMAN: As you and I have discussed, open markets and better trade relations are key components to a more peaceful, a more stable and a more prosperous world. Through expanded trade, the roots of democracy and freedom are deepened. And here at home, trade policy opens markets to create jobs, a higher standard of living and greater economic growth.

[So does this mean you remain hopeful that trade will be freer?--ed. Well, I see this appointment as a good news-bad news kind of situation. The good news is that Portman is a legitimate free trader. Daniel Griswold at the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies just published a briefing paper looking at Congressional attitudes towards trade, and Portman is categorized as a consistent free trader (his one major lapse was support for the steel tariffs).

The bad news is that, while I don't know the extent of the personal relationship between Portman and Bush, I have to guess that it's not terribly close (see update below). Which makes me wonder just how much politcal capital Bush is willing to spend on trade expansion. Bob Zoellick, when faced with a similar situation, did the best he could with a weak hand. But as any poker player knows, without the cards there's only so much you can do. Plus, as that Cato study suggests, Portman is going to have an uphill fight getting his congressional colleagues to sign on to the Bush trade agenda.]


UPDATE: Thanks to D.J. for this Capitol Hill Blue link from mid-2004 which suggests that Portman and Bush are actually pretty tight: "Among other members of Bush's brain trust are Vice President Dick Cheney; a brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; longtime adviser Karen Hughes; and Ohio Rep. Rob Portman, a longtime Bush family friend.... Portman, the only alumnus of the first Bush administration serving in Congress, is actively involved in Bush's strategy in industrial battleground states like his own." So maybe my "bad news" concerns are misplaced.

posted by Dan on 03.17.05 at 11:59 AM


Drezner says: "The bad news is that, while I don't know the extent of the personal relationship between Portman and Bush, I have to guess that it's not terribly close."

In fact, I think the opposite is true. By all accounts, Bob Portman is a longtime friend of the Bush family. He was the director of the Office of Legislative Affairs in the Bush I administration, and was a member of W's small, inside circle of advisors in the '04 campaign. Check out this article as a sample:

Of course I don't know much more than I read in the press. But the Portman appointment seems to be another instance of Bush appointing loyalists with a private line to the Oval Office to his second cabinet. I think this is a good day for free trade.

posted by: D.J. on 03.17.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

This is right. Portman was well liked in the first Bush White House and has been an able Representative in a House GOP caucus where ability is conspicuous by its rarity. The major elected officials in Ohio are all Republicans who aren't going anywhere, so Portman was open to a new challenge.

This is a good appointment, aimed at securing Congressional approval for the trade agreements Zoellick negotiated. Portman will have his hands full, but if he succeeds will punch a key ticket for his own political future. The downside of Portman's appointment will show up later, when he tries to negotiate additional trade agreements and manuever the United States through the Doha multilateral talks. No USTR negotiates all his own agreements, of course, but Portman has never done this kind of thing before, and Zoellick left enormous shoes to fill.

Having said that, though, if Congress were to reject CAFTA or the other agreements Zoellick left on the table momentum for trade liberalization could just about disappear, so Bush is not wrong to want someone at USTR able to make Congress his priority.

posted by: Zathras on 03.17.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

Hmmmm...This seems to fall in the catagory
"If Bush wants him it's probably bad for the
U.S. in the long term."

posted by: James on 03.17.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

Portman is tight with Bush.

It will be interesting to see if anyone asks any emabarassing questions about the economy in Ohio, which has been devastated by NAFTA and the Chinese (and yes our governor is a dunce). An excellent analysis of manufacturing problems in WSJ early this week.

Our GOP Congressmen tend to have safe seats (Oxley in my district) so they tend to represent the Business Roundtable more than voters.

Ohio lost jobs the past four months, although there was a small gain for the year 2004. Still badly behind Y2000 levels. On target for a fourth consequtive personal bankruptcy record this year.

Michigan is in a similar bind, although Mich is more auto related and of course has the elected crazies who have destroyed Detroit.

Ohio and Michigan are so depressed few illegal aliens move here - that is depressed.

Findlay, Ohio

posted by: Tom on 03.17.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?