Trump Nominates Non-Free-Trader Robert Lighthizer to Trade Office

Dave Johnson

President-“elect” Donald Trump today announced his nomination of Robert Lighthizer for the cabinet-level office of US Trade Representative (USTR). Lighthizer, who served as deputy USTR under President Ronald Reagan, is known for criticizing Republican “free trade” ideology. Before serving in the Reagan administration he was chief of staff for the Senate Finance Committee.

Lightizer’s nomination signals that Trump is likely to oppose the wide-open “free trade” ideology and policy that ruled the last several decades, enriching the Wall-Street “investor” class while wiping out US-based industries like textiles and electronics manufacturing, devastating entire regions and communities like the “Rust Belt” and Detroit, as well as much of the American middle class.

But Lightzinger and Trump’s public positions are at odds with most of Trump’s nominees to other positions, most Republicans in Congress and with the billionaires, “investors” and giant corporations that usually line up behind and fund the Republican party. How will Trump handle the expected opposition from these elements of the Republican coalition? If Trump would give a press conference perhaps we could know more.

Meanwhile, according to Fox News, Trump said,

“Ambassador Lighthizer is going to do an outstanding job representing the United States as we fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first,” Trump said Tuesday in a statement announcing his pick. “He has extensive experience striking agreements that protect some of the most important sectors of our economy, and has repeatedly fought in the private sector to prevent bad deals from hurting Americans. He will do an amazing job helping turn around the failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity.”

Reuters reports that Lightizer has been fighting China’s unfair trade practices,

Lighthizer has argued that China has failed to live up to commitments made in 2001 when it joined the World Trade Organization and that tougher tactics are needed to change the system, even if it means deviating from World Trade Organization rules.

“Years of passivity and drift among U.S. policymakers have allowed the U.S.­-China trade deficit to grow to the point where it is widely recognized as a major threat to our economy,” Lighthizer wrote in 2010 congressional testimony.

“Going forward, U.S. policymakers should take these problems more seriously, and should take a much more aggressive approach in dealing with China,” he wrote.

Lori Wallach Statement

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, issued a statement on the expected nomination, and noted that it contrasts with most of Trump’s appointments so far, who have been public supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that Trump campaigned against,

“Lighthizer is very knowledgeable about both technical trade policy and the ways of Washington, but what sets him aside among high-level Republican trade experts is that for decades his views have been shaped by the pragmatic outcomes of trade agreements and policies rather than fealty to any particular ideology or theory. I don’t know that he would agree with progressive critics of our status quo trade policies about alternative approaches, but he also has had quite a different perspective on trade policy than the Republican congressional leaders and most of Trump’s other cabinet nominees who have supported the TPP and every past trade deal.”

Public Citizen’s press release continued,

President-elect Donald Trump has filled many top administration posts with proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact that Trump railed against during his campaign. Trump appointees who publicly advocated for the TPP include Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce), Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerman (Secretary of State), Gov. Terry Branstad (Ambassador to China), Gen. James Mattis (Secretary of Defense) and Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn (Director of National Economic Council) – not to mention Vice-President-elect Mike Pence.

“Thankfully there was never a congressional majority for the TPP in the 10 months after it was signed so the TPP was dead before the election,” said Wallach. “But even so, most of Trump’s cabinet members will be inclined to grab the shovel from Trump’s hands before he can bury the TPP’s moldering corpse by formally withdrawing the U.S. as a signatory.”

Other prominent TPP supporters nominated to join the Trump administration include:
· Gen. James Mattis – TPP supporter named Secretary of Defense
· Gov. Rick Perry – TPP supporter named Secretary of Energy
· Rep. Ryan Zinke – Supporter of Fast Track for TPP named Secretary of Interior
· Rep. Tom Price – Supporter of Fast Track for TPP named Secretary of Health & Human Services
· Dr. Ben Carson – TPP supporter named Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
· Elaine Chao – TPP supporter named Secretary of Transportation
· Mike Pompeo – TPP supporter named CIA Director

Scott Paul: “A Great Pick”

Scott Paul, President of the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), issued a statement saying,

“Robert Lighthizer is a great pick for U.S. Trade Representative. I am hopeful he will use his new role to continue to stand up for American workers and manufacturers who have been hurt by unfair trade.

“Mr. Lighthizer fought to secure antidumping and countervailing duties against foreign companies who were flouting U.S. trade law. This leveled the playing field for U.S. workers and saved middle class jobs. He also worked to open overseas markets for U.S. companies and served as a deputy U.S. trade representative during the Reagan administration — experience that will serve him well in his new role.

“Mr. Lighthizer’s selection as USTR — as well as that of Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro, the director of the new White House National Trade Council — is hopefully a signal that the incoming Trump administration intends to take on trade cheats like China, but the proof is always in the policy.”

Friends of the Earth: Lighthizer No Friend Of The Earth

Friends of the Earth Senior Trade Analyst Bill Waren isn’t so sure this is a good nomination:

Trump’s selection of Robert Lighthizer, a corporate lawyer and Republican political operative, to serve as the U.S. Trade Representative is another example of the revolving door between corporate lobby shops on K Street and the White House staff. Nothing in Lighthizer’s background suggests that he has any concern about the environmental and climate havoc resulting from trade deals like the pending Trade in Services Agreement. To the contrary, his clients include big oil, corporate agriculture, big pharma, and the insurance industry.

Lighthizer might be described as a paleo-conservative, in other words a throwback to another era. He is an admirer of the isolationist Robert A. Taft and the racist Jesse Helms. He will fit right in to the xenophobic culture of the Trump administration.

We’ll See

Trumps appointments have been sending mixed signals and Trump has been giving the public very little information on what to expect from his administration (and refusing to hold press conferences). But at least so far his trade appointments give the appearance of lining up with his campaign promises.

But watch out for this: Trump Trade Position Is Opposite Of What People Think It Is.

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