foreign relations

Hagerty breezes through first Senate step in becoming ambassador to Japan

Nashville businessman Bill Hagerty, former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development,  diplomatically deflected a few potentially dangerous questions as he breezed through his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday, reports The Tennessean, bringing him one step closer to becoming the U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Most of the questions Hagerty, 57, faced were about how to open up Japan for more U.S. exports and how to deal with a nuclear North Korea and a China looking to expand its influence.

For Sen. John Barasso, R-Wy., it was how to get more Wyoming beef into Japan while Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., asked about removing barriers to the sale of the state’s chicken in Japan and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, lamented that few American cars are sold in Japan.

“It’s a very complicated issue,” Hagerty told Portman in what was a typical response during the hearing.

The hearing lasted only about an hour but the hearing room was packed, mostly with Japanese media and members of the diplomatic corps, including Kenichiro Sasae, Japanese ambassador to the U.S.

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Corker: Trump administration ‘downward spiral’ (UPDATE: Alexander kinda critical, too)

Among congressional Republicans, Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker had one of the stronger  negative reactions Monday to reports that President Donald Trump has revealed sensitive intelligence to Russia’s foreign minister and U.S. ambassador and is widely quoted today in national media.

From CNN:

“They are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” Corker told reporters. “You know the shame of it is there’s a really good national security team in place, there’s good productive things that are underway through them, and through others. But the chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think — it creates a worrisome environment.”

From Politico:

“To compromise a source is something that you just don’t do,” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters, adding that he didn’t know yet whether the report was true. “That’s why we keep the information that we get from intelligence sources so close, is to prevent that from happening.”

Corker was referring to a report in The Washington Post on Monday that Trump divulged highly classified information involving the Islamic State that officials had obtained through an intelligence-sharing arrangement with a U.S. partner. The arrangement was so sensitive that the information was not even shared with other U.S. allies, according to the Post.

The report, which the White House denied, came on the heels of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey last week. Corker told other news outlets the White House is “in a downward spiral right now” and needs to get things “under control.”

UPDATE, via The Tennessean: In a cryptic statement Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander R-Tenn., described the global impact of White House actions.

“Those working in the White House would do well to remember that just a little tilt there can create earthquakes out in the country and around the world,” Alexander said.

Corker: ‘We’re not going to do a Russia sanctions bill’

Excerpt from a Politico article:

The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have reached a decision that’s sure to disappoint Russia hawks: They’re not taking up a Russia sanctions bill anytime soon.

Instead, Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee and ranking Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland have agreed to move forward on a measure to counter Russian influence in Eastern Europe without using sanctions as well as an Iran sanctions bill.

… “We’re not going to do a Russia sanctions bill,” Corker told POLITICO on Monday. “The ranking member and I are in strong agreement on a pathway forward and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do an Iran sanctions bill. It’ll be done toward the end of this work period. We’re also working together on a bill to push back against Russia in Europe and what they’re doing, and those are the two courses of action that we’re taking.”

… The deal between Corker and Cardin resolves a point of contention between Corker and some Democrats on the Foreign Relations panel, who wanted to move Iran and Russia sanctions together, according to multiple Democratic Senate aides.

The Iran sanctions bill was introduced in March by Corker and has bipartisan support. It’s in retaliation for Iran’s ballistic missile development, support for U.S.-designated terrorist groups and human rights violations.

TN attorney general backs Trump travel ban in court filing

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has made Tennessee the 15th state to join in filing a legal brief that supports President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban during  court challenge, reports The Tennessean.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who last year led efforts to have a private law firm file a lawsuit against federal refugee policies after Slatery declined to do so, made the announcement to reporters on Thursday.

The president’s revised order, which was issued in March, restricts travel from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. A federal judge in Hawaii halted Trump’s travel ban, which was his second. The federal judge’s ruling is being appealed in 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

…Last month, attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia, as well as Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, filed the amicus brief with the 9th Circuit. The states argue that Trump’s travel ban is legal. North Dakota also joined the coalition of states that filed the amicus brief this week.

The coalition of states conclude that the appeals court should ultimately reverse the halt of the travel ban.

Trump picks Bill Hagerty as ambassador to Japan


The White House announced Thursday that Bill Hagerty, former commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development, will be nominated as U.S. ambassador to Japan by President Trump.

Excerpt from the Japan Times report:

Hagerty, 57, who as director of presidential appointments helped select Cabinet members and other administration personnel, is expected to assume the diplomatic post following Senate approval. He will succeed Caroline Kennedy, who left Tokyo in January.

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Lamar Alexander: We love Australia

Australia’s prime minister says ‘dozens and dozens’ of U.S. members of Congress expressed support for Australia after reports of a hostile exchange (in a telephone conversation between himself and America’s president), reports the Manchester Guardian.

Malcolm Turnbull says his infamous phone call with US president Donald Trump last week has worked in Australia’s favour, because it inspired “dozens and dozens” of US congressmen to publicly support the Australia-US alliance.

And Tennessee’s U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who once spent six months in Australia, provides a fine example in the press release below.

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:

WASHINGTON, February 6 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) tonight spoke about the close relationship between the United States and Australia, saying, “it is always appropriate for the United States Senate to reaffirm the importance of that relationship and I am glad to do so again today.”

“The people of the United States do not have better friends than the people of Australia,” Alexander said. “Today no two countries trust one another and cooperate in security arrangements more than America and Australia.  We trade, we visit one another and our students study in each other’s universities.”

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Haslam frets about alien driver’s license bill

Gov. Bill Haslam is concerned that legislators are sending the wrong message with a bill requiring state officials to stamp the words  “Alien” or “Non-U.S. citizen” on Tennessee driver’s licenses issued to persons without permanent legal status to live in the United States, reports the Times-Free Press.

Tennessee ranked No. 1 last year in job creation from direct foreign job investment. Haslam fears such a law risks sending the wrong signal to companies like Volkswagen and Nissan, which have huge presences in Tennessee and whose executives often visit on federally issued temporary work or travel visas.

“We have a lot of people who are here that we’re glad they’re here,” the Republican governor said, adding he hasn’t yet seen the legislation.

“Volkswagen, Nissan — and I could keep on going. We have more foreign investment from Japan than any other state in the country other than California. We don’t want to create something that would damage that,” he said.

The bill’s sponsors are Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, and Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson. (Note: It’s HB222.)

The Tennessean’s report notes that, under current law, people who are not Tennessee residents can get only a temporary license that can be distinguished at a glance from a permanent license. It also includes comments from Ragan:

“The 19 hijackers from 9/11 were here on overstayed visas, so this is just intended to be another way of ensuring that we catch that if we can,” he said.

Ragan called his legislation an extra step in terms of safety.

“You never put just one barrier out there to stop an enemy, you put as many as you can,” he said. “This is just an additional check out there. It’s not intended to be anything onerous but it is intended to be a little more obvious.”

…Ragan said he didn’t see any controversy behind the use of the word “alien” or “illegal alien.”

“That means a stranger who is in our country in violation of the law,” he said. “The sensitivities and micro-aggressions and all the other stuff that goes on around here mystify me.”

Corker hails committee approval of Tillerson

News release from Sen. Bob Corker’s office

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today joined a majority of committee members in voting to favorably report the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State to the full Senate for consideration.

“I personally have no doubt that Rex Tillerson is well-qualified,” said Corker. “He’s managed the world’s eighth largest company by revenue with over 75,000 employees. Diplomacy has been a critical component of his positions in the past, and he has shown himself to be an exceptionally able and successful negotiator who has maintained deep relationships around the world.”

Complete text of Corker’s opening statement at the business meeting is below.

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Former Haslam cabinet member reported in line to become ambassador to Japan

President-elect Donald Trump is expected to name Tennessee businessman William Hagerty, according to media reports – initially from the Japanese news service Nikkei. Hagerty, previously the state’s commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, has recently been working on Trump’s transition team.

The Tennessee native joined Trump’s transition team in the summer and now serves as director of presidential appointments. Hagerty previously spent three years in Tokyo while with Boston Consulting Group. He went on to co-found private equity firm Hagerty Peterson after starting his career in the field at Trident Capital.

Hagerty’s business success makes him a natural fit for the Trump team. He has close links to the Republican Party establishment, having served in the George H.W. Bush White House as a policy adviser and as a member of Mitt Romney’s campaign for president in 2012.

Note: He also journeyed to Japan as ECD commissioner on a trade mission with Gov. Bill Haslam. He’s been mentioned as a prospective candidate for governor in 2018. Serving as ambassador to Japan would presumably make such a run unlikely.

Corker won’t be secretary of state; will chair Tillerson confirmation hearing

News release from Sen. Bob Corker’s office

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today released the following statement regarding President-elect Donald J. Trump’s intention to nominate Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State.

“I very much appreciated President-elect Trump calling me last night to let me know that he would be nominating Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State,” said Corker. “Mr. Tillerson is a very impressive individual and has an extraordinary working knowledge of the world. I congratulate him on his nomination and look forward to meeting with him and chairing his confirmation hearing.”

“On a personal note, it has been an honor to be considered for Secretary of State,” added Corker. “I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the President-elect and his team throughout this process and appreciate the deliberate manner in which he arrived at this decision. I look forward to working with him to move our country forward.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in early January.

Note: The hearing is likely to be quite contentious, given a national uproar over Trump’s choice of the ExxonMobil CEO that’s being widely reported in national media. See, for example, Politico story HERE. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who had hailed Corker as a potential nominee for secretary of state, issued a fairly bland statement on Tillerson’s selection as well. It’s below.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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