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Trump Picks Robert Lighthizer To Be U.S. Trade Representative


Tough talk about trade, bold promises to protect American workers - those things won Donald Trump a lot of support during the election. And this morning, Trump's transition team announced his nomination of a new U.S. trade representative. It's Robert Lighthizer, who was deputy trade representative under Ronald Reagan and is seen by many as a longtime advocate for more protectionist rules. And let's hear more about him from NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who's on the line. Mara, good morning.


GREENE: So who is Lighthizer?

LIASSON: Robert Lighthizer is a former Reagan administration deputy U.S. trade representative. He is currently a partner and a lobbyist at the Skadden Arps firm, where his job is to get access to foreign markets for big U.S. corporations. He has taken a tougher line on China trade practices in the past. That's in line with Donald Trump's position, and he was a supporter of Trump during the campaign. He has spoken out in favor of imposing quotas and tariffs on imports, which all presidents have done to a different extent, but his nomination signals a harder line on China and on Chinese imports, which is exactly what Donald Trump campaigned on.

GREENE: And so just to understand this job, I mean, Donald Trump talked about renegotiating NAFTA, talked about getting tough on China. This is the guy who will be in the trenches, you know, making all of that sort of thing happen.

LIASSON: Yes, along with several other Trump appointments. This doesn't necessarily mean that he wants to rip up all multilateral trade deals across the board. It sounds like he wants to get better trade deals, tougher trade deals for the U.S., not necessarily start a full-fledged trade war. But he hasn't, at least as far as we know, called for a wholesale renegotiation or removal of the United States from NAFTA, for instance.

GREENE: Which leads to a question - will he be tough enough to satisfy many American workers who went to the polls and supported Trump with a lot of expectations here?

LIASSON: Well, I don't think they're going to be looking at what are the details of trade deals. I think they'll be looking at the bottom line - are there more jobs? Do manufacturing jobs come back? Do their wages go up?

GREENE: Well, this, you know, you say that getting tough with China is going to be a big theme, I mean, not just in this presidency but certainly when it comes to trade. Donald Trump tweeted yesterday. He sort of took China to task. He said China's been taking out massive amounts of money and wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade but won't help with North Korea, nice - exclamation point.


GREENE: I mean, isn't there a lot at stake here when it comes to trade? Because if he angers China, doesn't he need their help when it comes to containing North Korea?

LIASSON: Well, yes, and that tweet followed another tweet where of course he responded to North Korea's announcement that he - it had - it has the capacity to send a nuclear weapon to the United States. I think this raises the question about what exactly does Donald Trump want China to do about North Korea. And, of course, all presidents are frustrated with China's inability to restrain North Korea. But what exactly does he want them to do? What is he willing to give China in return? And the Chinese reaction to this was interesting. They issued a statement saying we don't pay attention to the features of president's behavior. We focus more on their policy.

GREENE: The features of a president's behavior - interesting term.

LIASSON: Sounds like that means tweeting.

GREENE: (Laughter) Yeah, so that is a feature of Donald Trump's behavior, as we've seen.


GREENE: OK, speaking to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks as always.

LIASSON: Thank you.

GREENE: And the news this morning - Donald Trump, his transition team, has announced the nomination of a new U.S. trade representative. It is Robert Lighthizer, who was a deputy trade representative under Ronald Reagan. And we'll be following that story all day on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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