Barack Obama’s New Trade Lobbyist

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in Washington to talk trade.

US President Barack Obama accompanies Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a visit to Lincoln Memorial on April 27, 2015 in Washington,DC.
National Journal
George E. Condon Jr.
Add to Briefcase
George E. Condon Jr.
April 28, 2015, 1 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama is likely to be smil­ing when Ja­pan­ese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe goes to Cap­it­ol Hill on Wed­nes­day—something he def­in­itely didn’t do one of the last times a for­eign lead­er spoke be­fore Con­gress.

Back in March, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu warned Con­gress, “Don’t be fooled” by the pres­id­ent, and he lob­bied against the White House’s ef­forts to work out a nuc­le­ar agree­ment with Ir­an. Now, 55 days later, on an­oth­er con­tro­ver­sial is­sue—trade—Abe steps for­ward as an im­port­ant ally lob­by­ing for an Obama deal.

With the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest for Trade Pro­mo­tion Au­thor­ity hanging in the bal­ance, the White House sees Abe’s vis­it—and his in­ter­ven­tion with Con­gress—as com­ing at a key mo­ment, even as the United States and Ja­pan struggle to wrap up their parts in the ne­go­ti­ations on the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, a 12-na­tion free-trade deal.

“I don’t think Abe will re­peat the per­form­ance of the pre­vi­ous guest,” said Sheila A. Smith, seni­or fel­low for Ja­pan Stud­ies at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. “That’s not at all in his in­terests, and I don’t think he is in­clined to identi­fy Ja­pan­ese in­terests as be­ing di­ver­gent from our ad­min­is­tra­tion’s.” She pre­dicted Abe will “make a strong case” for TPP and will “try to sell TPP to those con­gress­men and wo­men who re­main a little bit on the fence.”

Oth­er ana­lysts agree. “This is not a Net­an­yahu mo­ment,” Shi­hoko Goto, a seni­or as­so­ci­ate in the Wilson Cen­ter’s Asia Pro­gram, told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “With TPP, Ja­pan wants to move for­ward. Amer­ica wants to move for­ward. It is good for both coun­tries. It is good for Asia. It is good for the world, and that’s what he wants to talk about.”

What this speech doesn’t have is the same buildup as Net­an­yahu’s, whose ap­pear­ance was marked by con­tro­versy over the pro­tocol of the in­vit­a­tion and hyped fur­ther by sub­sequent boy­cotts. But while Abe’s speech won’t have nearly the same na­tion­al im­pact, the White House hopes his per­son­al ap­peal is enough to nudge a few more mem­bers to ap­pre­ci­ate the eco­nom­ic be­ne­fits of the trade deal.

The fact is, for the White House, TPP re­mains a tough sell in Con­gress where most of the pres­id­ent’s own party is abandon­ing him on the is­sue.

At the same time, the TPP ne­go­ti­ations are stalled over the last re­main­ing obstacles—the tar­iffs pro­tect­ing Ja­pan­ese farm­ers and Amer­ic­an pro­tec­tions for U.S. trucks and autos. In an in­ter­view with The Wall Street Journ­al re­leased Monday, Obama ac­know­ledged the stick­ing points will prob­ably pre­vent a deal from be­ing fi­nal­ized while Abe is in Wash­ing­ton.

“Ne­go­ti­ations are tough on both sides be­cause he’s got his own polit­ics and in­terests,” said Obama. “Ja­pan­ese farm­ers are tough, Ja­pan­ese auto­makers want cer­tain things. I don’t ex­pect that we will com­plete all ne­go­ti­ations” this week. Though he ad­ded that the “parties (are) much closer to­geth­er.”

Abe has cham­pioned TPP from the start, push­ing it hard on his first vis­it to Wash­ing­ton after his elec­tion in 2013—even though he has his own do­mest­ic crit­ics, in­clud­ing Ja­pan­ese farm­ers who do not want to lower the tar­iffs that pro­tect them from U.S. com­pet­i­tion. That is one reas­on why the con­gres­sion­al dis­pute over trade is big news in Ja­pan. “The Ja­pan­ese are watch­ing our de­bate here,” said Smith. “They are try­ing to gauge wheth­er we are well po­si­tioned to move for­ward.”

The speech to a joint meet­ing of Con­gress—the first ever by any Ja­pan­ese prime min­is­ter—will be the high­light of what is an ex­traordin­ar­ily long U.S. vis­it by Abe. It star­ted Monday in Bo­ston and fea­tured an un­sched­uled vis­it with Obama to the Lin­coln Me­mori­al later in the day. Tues­day, Abe will get the most pomp and ce­re­mony a White House can de­liv­er, with a full form­al ar­rival ce­re­mony on the South Lawn, talks in the Oval Of­fice dur­ing the day, and a State Din­ner in the even­ing. Then, it’s to Con­gress on Wed­nes­day be­fore leav­ing for New York and, later in the week, to Cali­for­nia.

The breadth of his sched­ule is de­signed to show the depth of Ja­pan-U.S. ties even as both coun­tries mark the 70th an­niversary of Ja­pan’s sur­render to con­clude World War II. And to both gov­ern­ments, noth­ing says that those hos­til­it­ies are long gone more than the deep­er eco­nom­ic ties sym­bol­ized by the TPP and the deep­er mil­it­ary ties dis­cussed on Monday.

Both sides con­tend the two lead­ers have a good re­la­tion­ship—cer­tainly a con­trast with the Obama-Net­an­yahu fric­tion. An of­fi­cial in the Ja­pan­ese Em­bassy privately boas­ted that they en­joy an easy com­pat­ib­il­ity that al­lows them to use first names in their meet­ings. That re­calls the days of the “Ron and Yasu” show, star­ring Pres­id­ent Ron­ald Re­agan and Prime Min­is­ter Yas­uhiro Na­kasone. But it still falls short of last dec­ade, when Pres­id­ent George W. Bush de­lighted his Elvis-lov­ing coun­ter­part by tak­ing Prime Min­is­ter Ju­nichiro Ko­i­zumi to Grace­land.

“On the per­son­al re­la­tion­ship, this isn’t as good as Bush and Ko­i­zumi,” said Goto. “You know Obama—this is as pas­sion­ate as he’s go­ing to get.”

What We're Following See More »
WHILE ROME BURNS?
Trump Hosting $100,000/Couple Fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago
43 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Even while Congress works to avoid a government shutdown at 5 p.m. today, "President Donald Trump will mark the first anniversary of his inauguration on Saturday with a celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, with tickets starting at $100,000 a pair. That amount, according to the invitation, will pay for dinner and a photograph with the president. For $250,000, a couple can also take part in a roundtable." The event will boost the Trump presidential campaign and the RNC.

Source:
DACA STILL A STICKING POINT
House Passes Spending Bill, but Senate May Balk
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The House approved a stopgap spending bill on Thursday night to keep the government open past Friday, but Senate Democrats — angered by President Trump’s vulgar aspersions and a lack of progress on a broader budget and immigration deal — appeared ready to block the measure. The House approved the measure 230 to 197, despite conflicting signals by President Trump sent throughout the day and a threatened rebellion from conservatives that ended up fizzling. But the bill, which would keep the government open through Feb. 16, provided only a faint glimmer of hope that a crisis could be averted before funding expires at midnight on Friday. In the Senate, at least about a dozen Democratic votes would be needed to approve the measure, and there was little chance that those would materialize."

Source:
RYAN SAYS HOUSE WILL VOTE TONIGHT
Senate Dems Say They Can Block Spending Measure
19 hours ago
THE LATEST

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he has the votes to pass a short-term spending bill tonight, but "Senate Democrats said they're confident they have the votes to block the stop-gap spending bill that the House is taking up, according to two Democratic senators and a senior party aide. And top Senate Republicans are openly worried about the situation as they struggle to keep their own members in the fold."

Source:
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS IN SUSPICIOUS CHECKS FLAGGED
Mueller’s Team Scrutinizing Russian Embassy Transactions
21 hours ago
THE LATEST
PRO-TRUMP SPENDING COULD VIOLATE FECA
FBI Investigating Potential Russian Donations to NRA
21 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency." Investigators have focused on Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank "who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA." The solicitation or use of foreign funds is illegal in U.S. elections under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) by either lobbying groups or political campaigns. The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login