Politico is out with a nasty piece about US Trade Rep Katherine Tai that shows just how much corporate hacks dislike her because of her effective advocacy for American workers, consumers, and small businesses trying to compete with global corporate behemoths. In the article, mostly unnamed sources complain about all the digital trade deals she isn’t getting done (deals that would eviscerate the ability of Congress to regulate Big Tech) and how she is being mean to people in government with different trade agendas than hers.
The fact that there is someone as pro-worker and as progressive Katherine Tai, with her track record and positioning on trade, at an agency like USTR is indeed a news story — just not the kind the corporate PR folks want to talk about. USTR for more than 50 years has arguably been the most consistently pro-big business agency in the US government, whether a Republican or Democratic president was in the White House. Bill Clinton’s trade reps negotiated NAFTA and bringing China into the World Trade Organization. Barack Obama’s trade rep was Mike Froman, formerly of Citigroup, whose great passion was getting the highly pro-corporate Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership through. Fortunately, he failed in that mission.
But Katherine Tai and the Biden administration have signaled a new era at USTR, pushing hard for a trade policy that is pro-worker and doesn’t give more power to global corporations. Along with the great work that other administration appointees like Lina Khan at the FTC, Jonathan Kanter at the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, and the whole anti-corporate monopoly competition initiative driven out of the White House, the Biden administration has set a new course for economic policy for the country.
This is a big political opportunity in 2024. This administration is taking on corporate power like no administration since FDR, and Biden has the chance to be rewarded for it by working-class swing voters if the Biden campaign makes this part of their message.
It is always striking to me when our Factory Towns project at American Family Voices does focus groups about how viscerally working-class swing voters race to the trade issue. Even though NAFTA and China entering the WTO were negotiated 30 years ago, these voters still talk about those trade deals and hate them passionately. They also know what TPP is and dislike that intensely, too.
This strong track record pushing back on anti-worker and pro-Big Tech and Big Pharma trade deals, and pushing hard for antitrust enforcement, has the potential to be a great boon for Democrats in 2024. We need to pick some populist fights with corporations that are big and powerful and abusing their power. These fights shouldn’t only be with Republicans, they should be with the global corporations we have been taking on. Nothing will help us more with those working-class swing voters than these kinds of fights and policies.
As is obvious from the Politico article, there are still some corporate Democrats in the Democratic Party, and they will do everything they can to undermine Biden’s progressive populist approach on these issues. The administration should oppose these forces and stand tall in defense of the great policies they have initiated.