From Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect <[email protected]>
Subject Kuttner on TAP: Politico’s Hit Job on U.S. Trade Rep Katherine Tai
Date January 29, 2024 8:04 PM
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**JANUARY 29, 2024**

On the Prospect website

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America Is Not a Democracy

The movement to save democracy from threats is too quick to overlook the
problems that have been present since the founding. BY DAVID DAYEN

Who Will Represent Alabama's New Democratic District?

After redistricting created another heavily Black congressional
district, nearly a dozen candidates have put themselves forward. BY TOBY

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Massachusetts Wakes Up to a Hospital Nightmare

Erstwhile Boston media darling Steward Health Care has been
strip-mining hospitals for a decade now. The power elite may finally be
paying attention. BY MAUREEN TKACIK

Kuttner on TAP








**** Politico's Hit Job on U.S. Trade Rep
Katherine Tai

A complex tug-of-war has been happening over the direction of Biden's
trade policy. Politico serves as a handy receptacle for Tai's enemies
to paint Tai as the problem.

President Biden has broken with several decades of orthodox trade
policy. He has been willing to subordinate the traditional corporate
brand of trade deals to a "worker-centered" industrial and trade policy.
He has partly sacrificed the sacred cow of past trade deals, the World
Trade Organization, in favor of the national economic interest. And as
bargaining levers against China, he has retained some of the tariffs
imposed by President Trump.

Since corporations were the primary beneficiaries of the now discarded
model, and since thousands of trade experts, in and out of government
(and often in revolving doors), have based their entire careers on the
old approach, there is a fierce undertow of adversaries attempting to
discredit Biden's shift.

Caught in the middle is Biden's U.S. trade representative, Katherine
Tai. That's where the infighting gets viciously personal.

Unlike previous trade reps, Tai does not have a direct relationship with
her president. She has also inherited a career staff, many of whom
resent and undermine the new direction of trade policy. Of the few
officials whom she does get to appoint, many have been imposed by the
White House and are not in sympathy with either Tai or Biden's trade

The latest example is the nomination of Nelson Cunningham, a longtime
corporate trade consultant, to be Tai's deputy. The nomination is
opposed by leading Democratic senators and may well fall of its own

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What I've just written is factual. But here's how Politico begins
its latest hit job against Tai
titled "Staff Exodus Signals End to Biden's Trade Dreams":

Frustration with a stalled trade agenda and unhappiness with the
leadership of President Joe Biden's trade chief [Tai] is pushing more
than a half-dozen senior trade officials out the door, according to four
current and former administration officials with knowledge of the

The piece goes on:

"She's really tough on people, and she hasn't figured out a way to
have relationships in other parts of the administration, which is how
you do your job," said one official familiar with the staffing issues.
"The morale [problem] is more about that than anything else. Other
agencies aren't having these kinds of departures."

This piece could be used in a journalism class as a textbook case of how
to let yourself be used by one side of a political dispute, relying on a
blind quote by a self-interested party to the dispute, using an ad
hominem (ad feminam in this case) argument.

The six people are in fact leaving for a variety of reasons, some
personal, some reflecting the fact that they are on the losing side of a
policy argument that Biden and Tai have been winning, and have decided
to move on. But how convenient to make this about Tai's supposed
management and interpersonal deficiencies.

In fact, contrary to Politico's misleading title, "Biden's trade
dreams" are doing just fine. What is in trouble is the trade dream of
the free-trade establishment.

Well down in the Politico piece, the author, trade specialist Gavin
Bade, feels obligated to quote some people giving the other side of the
argument. In the past, Bade, whom I've never talked to, has been more
fair-minded and factual. You have to wonder if the misleading tilt in
the piece came from his editors.

In paragraph 12, we get the following: "One staff member who has served
under six trade representatives said she's much less harsh than some
of her predecessors. 'She doesn't come down on people,' said the
staffer. 'She kicks the tires on arguments. And sometimes those
arguments don't hold up.'"

Exactly. That could have been the lede.


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