via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.
Obama today to unveil Kirk as USTR, Rep. Solis
as Labor Dept. leaders
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President-elect Barack Obama today
in Chicago will name former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk as U.S. Trade Representative
(USTR), and Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), as labor secretary, creating
a split outlook on Obama's trade policy because Kirk is a relatively free
trade proponent, while Solis is an opponent of current approaches to trade
agreements. Obama will also formally announce that retiring Rep. Ray LaHood
(R-Ill.) is his choice for Transportation secretary.
Kirk, Dallas's first African-American mayor, between 1995
and 2001, promoted Dallas on trips overseas and aggressively noted the
benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
As mayor of Dallas in 2000, Kirk called for permanently normalizing
trade relations with China, saying that “you’re either a
part of the global economic community or you’re going to be left
out of it.” He will be joined in the trade policy arena by another
free trader Obama choice as Commerce secretary – New Mexico Gov.
Bill Richardson. Kirk would be the fourth African American and only
Southerner in Obama's Cabinet.
Obama had earlier offered the USTR position to Rep. Xavier
Becerra, a California Democrat, but Becerra said he wanted
to remain in the House. Becerra, recently elected vice chairman of the
House Democratic Caucus, said in a newspaper interview published earlier
this week that he had been vetted for the job but was concerned that
trade would not be given much "weight" in the new administration.
“My concern is how much weight this position would have had and
what priority,” Becerra told La Opinion. “I arrived at the
conclusion that [trade agreements] will not be priority number one,
and perhaps not even two or three.”
Rep. Solis, a close allay of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
will appeal to anti-free-trade Democrats. First elected to
Congress in 2000, she represents portions of East Los Angeles, including
a large portion of the Hispanic community. She opposed the Central American
Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and helped garner Latino groups to oppose
the pact, which passed by a two-vote margin.
Former Clinton administration U.S. Trade Representative Mickey
Kantor told the Wall Street Journal that he thinks Obama will
continue to oppose bilateral pacts, but will make a big push on larger
trade deals like Doha, or regional agreements with Latin America
or Asia. The broader trade deals appeal to a broader segment of the
US, Kantor said, and aren't any more difficult to pass in Congress than
pacts with small countries. "You'll see more multilateral and regional
deals," Kantor said. "We might as well go for something big,
which engages the rest of the world, rather than focus on bilateral
deals, which makes us look like we're just going our own way."
Solis, 51, was born in Los Angeles and is the third Hispanic
chosen for the Cabinet (the other two are Bill Richardson and
Ken Salazar), and the fifth woman (in addition to Hillary Rodham Clinton,
Susan Rice, Janet Napolitano and Lisa Jackson). She has serviced in
the House since 2001 and originally backed Clinton in the Democratic
primaries. Before becoming a US Representative, she served eight years
in the state legislature, where she was the first Latina elected to
the state Senate. Her career started in the Carter White House, where
she worked in the Office of Hispanic Affairs and the Office of Management
and Budget. She has not served on the House Education and Labor Committee
but has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's labor
policies and is the only member of Congress on the board of American
Rights at Work, a pro-labor outfit. She is a proponent of retraining
workers for "green" jobs and a co-sponsor of the Employee
Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to organize workers. The
daughter of a Teamster shop steward and a member of the United Rubber
Workers, she led the fight in the California legislature for a higher
Kirk, 53, ran unsuccessfully for one of Texas's U.S. Senate
seats in 2002. He has been a partner at the Houston-based law
firm of Vinson & Elkins LLP. He served two terms leading Houston,
the nation's ninth-largest city. His previous jobs include being an
assistant city attorney and chief lobbyist for the city of Dallas, as
an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas), and following Bentsen to the
Treasury Department at the start of the Clinton administration, returning
to Texas in 1994 as secretary of state. In 2002, Kirk ran for a US Senate
seat but lost to John Cornyn (R). He then went into private practice
as a lawyer. He is a graduate of Austin College and the University of
Texas law school. Kirk was named one of the 50 most influential US minority
lawyers by The National Law Journal earlier this year.
Comments: Labor groups
are very pleased with the selection of Solis, but are definitely wary
about Kirk's coming role in trade policy. As previously noted, the two
nominees have distinctly different viewpoints about trade policy. I agree
with Kantor's comments to the Wall Street Journal that Obama
will likely focus on larger trade deals like Doha, and I would add that
veteran trade policy experts say that having a former politician in the
top USTR position could be the right approach for thorny trade agenda
items ahead, including selling wary lawmakers to pass whatever trade agreements
surface in the years ahead.
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