As a senator, Joe Biden voted for NAFTA and for facilitating China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. As vice president, he defended the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Barack Obama considered “the cornerstone” of U.S. economic relations with the Asia-Pacific.
On Wednesday, President Biden’s hand-picked secretary of state, Antony Blinken, acknowledged that U.S. policymakers had too long been blind to the suffering of American workers displaced by trade deals and promised “our approach now will be different.”
As the world closely watches how Biden will manage America’s economic engagement with the world, Blinken’s remarks were a clear echo of the trade skepticism President Donald Trump skillfully exploited in his unlikely climb to power.
“Some of us previously argued for free trade agreements because we believed Americans would broadly share in the economic gains that those – and that those deals would shape the global economy in ways that we wanted,” the diplomat said.
“But we didn’t do enough to understand who would be negatively affected and what would be needed to adequately offset their pain,” said Blinken. “Our approach now will be different. We will fight for every American job and for the rights, protections, and interests of all American workers.”
He promised to fight intellectual property theft, currency manipulation and corruption overseas. Biden’s approach will “benefit all Americans, not only those for whom the economy is already working,” Blinken said.
Because of trade’s impact on jobs and the economy, few foreign policy issues have as much domestic political potency.
It’s hard not to hear Blinken’s words as a considerably more polished, more diplomatic version of Trump’s angry anti-trade screeds — whether aimed at NAFTA, which the former president branded “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere,” or his promise “the era of economic surrender will finally be over.” Trump regularly vowed to help “the forgotten men and women of our country,” a phrase he used to court White working-class voters.
Trump pummeled Hillary Clinton in 2016 on the issue of trade. The former secretary of state, mindful of the national mood on the issue, repudiated her past support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as “the gold standard.”
It’s likely one reason the former reality show star went on to post the best Republican performance among union households since Ronald Reagan’s reelection in 1984.
And now Biden sometimes sounds like he’s the one putting America First.
In a December 2020 interview, he promised: “I’m not going to enter any new trade agreement with anybody until we have made major investments here at home and in our workers.”
Katherine Tai, Biden’s nominee for United States Trade Representative (USTR), repeatedly promised during her confirmation hearings to pursue a “worker-centered” trade policy.
“A lot has changed in the world in the past five or six years,” she said. “And a lot has changed in terms of our own awareness about some of the pitfalls of the trade policies that we've pursued, as we pursued them, over the most recent years.”
Americans came to regard trade deals as “concocted by people in places like Washington, Brussels, and Geneva that, at best, have not a lot of relevance to their lives or, at worst, undercut and undermine the livelihoods that they have been used to having,” Tai told lawmakers.
One of her answers drew a rebuke from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who left zero doubt that progressives would keep the pressure on Biden.
“If the administration won't ensure that the interests of American workers and American families are prioritized over corporations when we're writing trade deals, then we're never going to get beyond a trade policy that leaves American families on the losing side.”
Biden’s history on trade largely tracks the seismic shifts on the issue inside the Democratic Party.
When Bill Clinton broke with its powerful anti-trade forces to push NAFTA (negotiated by George H. W. Bush’s administration), or try to bring China into the international fold, the Delaware Democrat was on board.
When George W. Bush was in office, Biden stuck with fellow Democrats. He voted favor of trade pacts with Australia and Morocco, which sailed through the Senate on bipartisan votes in 2004. But he had opposed deals with Chile and Singapore in 2003; voted no on an agreement with the Dominican Republic and some Central American nations in 2005; and against an accord with Peru in 2007.
In the Obama era, several other free trade deals came online. And while corporate CEOs privately complained to the White House about what they regarded as predatory Chinese practices, many also pleaded that there be no U.S. retaliation lest they lose access to the world’s most populous market, Obama aides told me.
Biden’s approach now that he’s in office seems to owe an intellectual debt to a project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace entitled “U.S. Foreign Policy For The Middle Class” — a slogan administration officials use so much that it’s not unusual to hear it from foreign diplomats in Washington.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, co-wrote one of its key reports, “Making U.S. Foreign Policy Work Better for the Middle Class.”
The September 2020 document highlights two Gallup polls. One is from February 2019, and it shows 69 percent of Americans saying the United States must take a major or leading role in world affairs. In another, from February 2020, 79 percent of Americans say trade is an opportunity for economic growth.
“But that should not be overinterpreted as support for the restoration of the foreign policy consensus that guided previous Republican and Democratic administrations,” the report says. “That set of policies left too many American communities vulnerable to economic dislocation and overreached in trying to effect broad societal change within other countries. America’s middle class wants a new path forward.”
Welcome to the new consensus on trade.
What’s happening now
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources advanced Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-N.M.) nomination to be interior secretary. This moves her “one step closer to becoming the first Native American to lead a department that controls a major portion of public land, including Indian Country,” Darryl Fears reports. “Only one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), supported Haaland. Murkowski said she had deep misgivings about Haaland’s previous statements opposing new drilling leases and the Keystone oil pipeline… But in conversations with constituents, many of whom are Indigenous people who have lived in the state since recorded time, Murkowski said, she learned that Alaskans are proud of Haaland’s historic nomination.”
The House scrapped plans for today's session after security officials warned of a possible plot by a militant group to breach the Capitol, John Wagner, Colby Itkowitz and Felicia Sonmez report. The Senate session, however, was still scheduled to begin today at noon.
The “QAnon Shaman,” among the first to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, said in a jailhouse interview he's “wounded” not to have received a pardon from Trump. Jacob Chansley also said he wasn't violent and that his intention was “to bring God back” into the Senate, Wagner reports. He said he now regrets “entering that building with every fiber of my being.”
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “N.C. Republicans censured their senior senator for voting against Trump. But they are silent on Rep. Madison Cawthorn,” by Michael Kranish: “It is what you would expect from a Trumpified party,” said Peter Wehner, a former official in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. “One of the regrettable lessons Republicans have learned from the Trump years is there’s no need to apologize. The shame or embarrassment can get in the way of your political ascendancy. They don’t feel the need to explain themselves because might makes right.”
- “U.N. says at least 38 dead in Myanmar anti-coup protests as security forces shoot to kill,” by Shibani Mahtani: “Nineteen-year-old Kyal Sin, better known by her nickname Angel, was a singer, dancer and taekwondo champion in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city. On Wednesday, she donned a black T-shirt with the words ‘everything will be ok’ before heading out to join protests against the military’s seizure of power in a coup on Feb. 1. She was shot in the head and killed … Kyal Sin’s death, and that of other young protesters, has emerged as a new flash point for democracy protesters in Myanmar."
… and beyond
- “Germany places far-right AfD party under surveillance for extremism,” by the New York Times’s Katrin Bennhold: “The decision by the domestic intelligence agency will now allow it to tap phones and other communications and monitor the movements of members of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which not only sits in the Federal Parliament but has become entrenched at all levels of politics in nearly every part of the nation. It is among the most sweeping efforts yet to deal with the rise of far-right and neo-Nazi political movements within Western democracies.”
- “Wealthy Keys enclave received COVID vaccines in January before much of the state,” by the Miami Herald’s David Goodhue and Mary Ellen Klas: “Ocean Reef Club is an ultra-exclusive neighborhood that is arguably one of the highest-security private communities in the nation. … It’s also home to many wealthy donors to the Florida Republican Party and GOP candidates, including Gov. Ron DeSantis. In fact, the only people from Key Largo who gave to DeSantis’ political committee live in Ocean Reef.”
The first 100 days
Is Biden’s $1.9 trillion package the right bill for this moment?
It was dark days back in January when Biden first released his relief proposal, Jeff Stein, Heather Long and Erica Werner report: “The economic recovery was backsliding, coronavirus cases were surging, and vaccines were just starting to get out. … [Now] the economy is doing better, coronavirus cases have plateaued at a high but much-reduced level, and Biden has said there would be vaccines for every American adult by the end of May.” Some policy experts and Democrats are now doubting whether the package is still the right one.
- “Some economists say it’s too focused on providing funding to states, cities and schools — some of which, they argue, could be used instead for long-term economic investments or simply reduced altogether," our colleagues write. "Other critics question whether Democrats are squandering a unique opportunity to enact more lasting programs to reduce poverty.”
- “Some leading Democratic lawmakers have said the plan should include more safeguards to protect jobless Americans should the pandemic continue longer than expected — measures left out of the current package.”
- The new economic outlook has given congressional Republicans political cover to vote against the legislation while making some centrist Democrats skittish about the overall price tag. While Biden agreed to tighten eligibility on stimulus payments for higher-earning Americans, centrist Democrats are expected to push other changes to further “target” the package.
- Biden officials pushed back on suggestions that the proposal is not as well-designed for March. “We’re still at the height of a pandemic,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday. “We are not going to recover from this pandemic tomorrow. The economic recession will not be recovered tomorrow.”
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is still going ahead with plans to conduct a marathon debate session tonight and tomorrow, Paul Kane reports. It could stretch into Saturday.
- Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said limiting who gets a relief check will save $12 billion in the relief package, the Guardian's Lauren Gambino reports.
The White House is weighing minimum wage negotiations with Republicans.
- White House aides “believe there’s room to bring Republicans into the fold because raising the minimum wage is popular across ideological grounds,” Politico reports. Biden officials, in a sign that they’re looking to broaden the coalition behind the hike, “reached out to trade groups last week to gauge their willingness to support legislation.”
- “Negotiations with Republicans would be another step entirely” — and could frustrate liberals who would likely oppose any deal that would slow down plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 over five years.
- Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) proposed a phased-in minimum wage increase to $10 that would require proof that employees are legally able to work in the U.S.
Quote of the day
“We said we’re going to do X, Y and Z, but we didn’t say we were going to be magicians,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, (D-Md.), on Democrats' willingness to go around Republican roadblocks. “We can’t magically make the Republicans be for what the people are for.”
Migrant family detention centers will be converted into Ellis Island-style rapid-processing hubs under a Biden plan.
- The hubs “will screen migrant parents and children with a goal of releasing them into the United States within 72 hours,” according to a Department of Homeland Security draft obtained by Maria Sacchetti, Nick Miroff and Silvia Foster-Frau.
- While the Biden administration has said it’s reviewing the way it uses family detention facilities and told a judge last week that their policies have not changed, ICE already emptied out one of its three “family residential centers” – the Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania, which had 21 detainees.
- Officials are considering turning the other two ICE facilities, both in Texas, into quick-release intake centers that would “screen migrant families, check their backgrounds and release them pending an immigration court hearing.”
- Some of these migrant families would enroll in “‘alternatives to detention,’ such as ankle monitoring programs. Families would undergo coronavirus testing and nonprofits would then help them secure airplane or bus tickets to their final destinations in the U.S., typically staying with friends or family.”
- “Many Republican lawmakers and some Democrats from southern border communities expressed concern that hastening the release of migrant families would encourage an even larger surge on the border,” our colleagues report. “The Biden administration has not yet detailed how exactly it will cope with another influx.”
Biden this morning hailed the passage of HR1.
- The president said he looks forward to working with Congress to “refine” the legislation so it can be signed into law.
- The “For the People Act,” a centerpiece of the Democratic voting rights agenda, passed “amid fierce Republican attacks that threaten to stop it cold in the Senate,” Mike DeBonis reports. No Republicans voted for the bill.
- Twenty Republican state Attorney Generals denounced HR1 as “unconstitutional.” In a letter led by Indiana AG Todd Rokita, the Republicans said the bill would “federalize” statewide elections and “erode faith in our elections and systems of governance,” Fox News reports. Other conservatives have also lashed out at the bill, including Trump, former vice president Mike Pence and Fox’s Tucker Carlson – who said the bill would “enshrine fraud.”
Biden quietly imposed temporary limits on counterterrorism drone strikes away from war zones.
- “The military and the C.I.A. must now obtain White House permission to attack terrorism suspects in poorly governed places where there are scant American ground troops, like Somalia and Yemen,” the Times reports. The administration is currently reviewing whether to tighten Trump-era rules for such operations. Under the previous administration, the military and the CIA could decide for themselves whether such attacks were justified.
The CDC will not release its guidance for vaccinated Americans today.
- The CDC was told to hold off publishing following a series of meetings with officials on the Coronavirus Task Force and the Department of Health and Human Services. A senior administration official said the guidelines were still being finished, Politico reports.
Republicans fear that Biden’s sweeping efforts to remake transgender rights in America will ruin women’s sports.
- Biden’s moves for transgender rights have “fed into Republicans’ efforts to portray Democrats as extreme on social issues,” Matt Viser, Marianna Sotomayor and Samantha Schmidt report. “Conservatives are increasingly seizing on the much-disputed notion that embracing transgender rights threatens women’s sports.”
- “You can’t win against men,” said GOP state Rep. Janel Brandtjen of Wisconsin, where a bill was introduced this week to ban transgender athletes in women’s sports. “That’s the biology, the reality. And, honestly, you’ll ruin women’s sports forever. Why would you compete if you knew you couldn’t win?”
Today in history
Hot on the right
Trump is weighing a 2024 run without Pence. “Privately, he’s discussed alternatives to Pence as he takes stock of who he believes stood with him at the end of his term and who didn’t,” Bloomberg News’s Jennifer Jacobs, Mario Parker and Mark Niquette report. “Trump’s advisers have discussed identifying a Black or female running mate for his next run, and three of the people familiar with the matter said Pence likely won’t be on the ticket.”
Hot on the left
Former Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) lost her WNBA team to a player she refused to meet. “The team is the Atlanta Dream. The player is two-time WNBA champ Renee Montgomery. And this is truly news to celebrate,” writes the Nation’s Dave Zirin. “The move by Montgomery creates a hell of a line in the sand across the sports spectrum. Once again, the WNBA is ahead of the game politically. It was when it embraced the Black Lives Matter movement, and it is again in forcing out a bigoted franchise owner and replacing her with a player’s voice.”
Senators voting against Biden’s Cabinet nominees, visualized
This week in Washington
Biden, Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will meet with a group of House members to talk infrastructure today at 2 p.m. Later, at 5 p.m, Biden will call the NASA JPL Perseverance team to congratulate them for a successful Mars landing.
Stephen Colbert said the QAnon believers who think Trump will be inaugurated today have a bad case of “March madness”: