The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP congressman tells U.S. trade negotiator she’s ‘too nice’ to do her job

Katherine Tai, the first woman of color to serve as U.S. trade representative, responded March 24 to Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.)’s claim she was “too nice.” (Video: Ways and Means Committee)
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When Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) got his turn to question the United States’ top trade negotiator at a House hearing Friday, he told her she was too nice to do her job and had “too nice a smile.”

“I don’t know you very well. You come very, very highly spoken of from members who worked with you previously. I personally think you’re too nice a person to be in the job that you’re in,” Murphy told Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the Biden administration’s trade agenda.

“Negotiators are usually very, very tough and sometimes mean people. They aren’t nice people like you are,” Murphy told her.

Tai, who holds a Cabinet-level position, has negotiated with China and argued cases before the World Trade Organization. She made it clear she was not going to tolerate Murphy’s assessment.

“Okay, well, let me just take off the ‘nice’ a little bit: I don’t need your pity. I stand up for the American people, and when I speak, people listen because I represent the interests of the United States,” Tai said.

Katherine Tai becomes top U.S. trade negotiator

In his extensive remarks, Murphy criticized trade policy in the Biden administration, calling the Paris climate agreement and “green things” distractions that he argued keep the United States from competing with China. He told Tai that she is “handicapped” by the Biden administration, adding, “and you’re stuck — personally, I feel sorry for you — you’re stuck in the middle of that.”

He continued describing Republican frustrations on trade, arguing that the United States is allowing China to extend its global influence. Murphy, whose congressional district includes pork producers, finished by asking Tai a question about pork exports to Taiwan.

Tai responded: “Congressman, I can assure you that I know to be nice to members of the Ways and Means Committee, and I’ve never been, I’ve never been faulted for being too nice.”

“You have too nice a smile,” Murphy interjected.

“I also don’t need you to feel sorry for me,” Tai continued, “so please don’t. Please don’t do that.”

“I just, I feel like you’ve been put in a tough spot, personally, because there’s just been — this administration above you has just shown no interest in trade,” Murphy responded.

Tai then told him she didn’t need his pity.

A spokesman for Murphy suggested that criticism of his remarks reduced Tai “to just her gender” and argued that it was ridiculous.

“Congressman Murphy started his remarks by applauding Ambassador Tai on how well-respected she is by both Republican and Democratic members of the Ways and Means Committee,” spokesman Harry Fones said in an email to The Post. “If you listen to the entire exchange and have it in the context of the hearing, Congressman Murphy is saying that the Biden Administration has put Ambassador Tai in a bind when it comes to negotiating trade deals and was not envious of her position.”

A spokesman for the Office of the Trade Representative referred The Post to Tai’s response in the hearing.

Tai was confirmed by the Senate as the U.S. Trade Representative in March 2021, becoming head of an office that negotiates trade agreements with foreign governments. She is the first woman of color to become the country’s top trade negotiator.

Tai, a graduate of Harvard Law School, previously was chief trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee and chief counsel for China trade enforcement for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, according to her administration biography.

After responding to Murphy, she addressed his remarks on trade, saying she was hearing frustrations from the Republican side of the dais. “You guys are staying very well on message,” she said.

“It’s a good message,” Murphy interjected. “It’s a true message.”

“It’s not. I think that you have completely missed the point,” Tai replied before continuing her response to his trade questions.