Global deal-maker

Global deal-maker
© Greg Nash

Michael FromanMichael B.G. FromanOn The Money: Sanders unveils plan to wipe .6T in student debt | How Sanders plan plays in rivalry with Warren | Treasury watchdog to probe delay of Harriet Tubman bills | Trump says Fed 'blew it' on rate decision Democrats give Trump trade chief high marks US trade rep spent nearly M to furnish offices: report MORE is the White House’s point man on trade. 

Froman, who met President Obama at Harvard Law School, is tasked with leading U.S. trade negotiations on a broad array of complex global agreements while touting to Congress their potential benefits.

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The 52-year-old was part of Obama’s inner circle of economic advisers at the White House before jumping into the  role of U.S. Trade Representative in June 2013. 

He has maintained an intense pace since then on the administration’s ambitious trade agenda, vowing to get trade promotion authority (TPA) and an Asia-Pacific deal passed in Congress this year while pushing along a batch of other trade items he wants to complete before the president leaves office fewer than two years from now.

He said, in a recent interview with The Hill, that the only way to accomplish all these goals and priorities is “through strong bipartisan cooperation between Congress and the administration, and together we can ensure our trade policy continues unlocking opportunity for all Americans.”

In his more than 600 days on the job, Froman has traveled to 25 countries — making 45 total trips — spending nearly a third of his tenure flying around the globe promoting the White House’s trade agenda that includes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and a deal with the European Union. 

When he’s not jetting around the world — often traveling in economy class with his staff — he’s often in his office or on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers.

Froman and his trade team have held more than 1,700 meetings on Capitol Hill, and he’s personally led more than 200 meetings and fielded countless phone calls.

The president recently joked he had promised Froman’s family that he will be home “sometime soon.”

Soon, though, is probably sometime in 2017.

With TPA, or fast-track, legislation seeming more likely in the next few weeks, Froman is trying to thread a needle by convincing lawmakers to pass a bill with the expectation that the massive TPP deal — encompassing 40 percent of the global economy — will be ready for congressional consideration later this year. 

“So our approach has been focusing on getting TPP done as soon as possible and in parallel work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to get TPA,” Froman said. 

He expects the passage of TPA and the completion of TPP to converge at some point down the line this year. 

 While trade is a top priority of the Republican-controlled Congress — and one the few areas of agreement it has with the Obama White House — the hard sell is among Democrats. 

The White House has implemented a full-court press on members of its own party as it seeks to assuage concerns of wary Democrats worried about the possibility of job and wage losses under a trade deal they argue will help only large corporations.

But Froman has argued that the TPP and other trade agreements put labor and environmental standards at the core of the deals, making them vastly different from the pacts of the past such as the oft-criticized North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). 

Some of those “past agreements haven’t necessarily lived up to all of their promise” so it is important “to demonstrate how we’re doing things differently here,” he said in a recent New York Times story. 

Plus, it will lock in those changes for future administrations, Froman said. 

Froman has taken the lead in sharpening the Obama administration’s message on trade, arguing that it puts the United States at the forefront of shaping global trade rules that will, in turn, lead to greater economic benefits for the nation’s middle class.

He said the aim for TPP is to get an agreement so strong that Congress would support a pact even without the pathway-smoothing TPA bill. 

Failure on trade isn’t an option, Froman said; without the deals, he thinks the consequences for the United States will be serious — economically and on global leadership.

In the course of his nearly nonstop work, Froman has earned a reputation around Washington as a sharp-minded consensus-builder who always has a stable of trade facts ready to rattle off. 

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea MORE (R-Wis.) credited the Obama administration for stepping up its game on getting TPA passed. 

“I’ve dealt with a lot of USTRs in my day and he seems to be doing pretty well,” Ryan said. 

At a recent hearing, he said, he felt Froman was straightforward and honest in answering lawmakers’ questions. 

Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade, said that what he is hearing from Republican lawmakers is that Froman has been very accessible to discuss both TPA issues and the other agreements he’s negotiating. 

“He’s been nothing but accessible and straightforward and timely in terms of getting back, and he’s been traveling a ton,” Tiberi said.

“He’s all in.” 

Even those who don’t necessarily agree with his trade stance appreciate his willingness to openly discuss the issue. 

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) told Froman at a recent hearing he has been “more forthright than the last five trade representatives put together.” 

“That doesn’t mean I agree with you, but I think that you’re forthright,” he said. 

Froman, along with the president and his Cabinet, have argued that the TPA is important, especially to U.S. trading partners and negotiators who want assurances that any agreement they sign won’t be changed by Congress. 

Randall Stephenson, chairman of Business Roundtable and CEO of AT&T, says he’s optimistic about getting a House bill within the first part of this year. 

“Mike Froman is as energized on this as I have seen a trade representative in my career,” he said.