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.

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 18, 2017 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today introduced Nashvillian Bill Hagerty at his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying he “strongly recommends” Hagerty to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Japan. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is chairman of the committee.

“Bill Hagerty, if approved by the committee, would go to Japan not only able to speak the language, but having lived and worked there, and understanding how close ties between Japan and the United States can create bigger paychecks for Americans as well as for the Japanese. My hope is that the committee will promptly approve his nomination and that he will soon be on the job and his children will be in their respective Scout troops in Japan.”

Alexander called Hagerty an “outstanding choice” after President Trump announced his nomination on March 23.

Alexander’s full remarks are below:

I’m here today to strongly and respectfully recommend to the committee that it approve the president’s nomination of Bill Hagerty to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

In 2013, when Bill Hagerty was the Commissioner of Economic and Community Development for Tennessee, he gave a speech entirely in Japanese at the American Embassy in Tokyo. Now, I’ve looked it up, there have been 16 United States Ambassadors to Tokyo, a very distinguished group since World War II: a five star general, two former Senate Majority Leaders, a former Vice President of the United States, and a former Speaker of the House, the daughter of a former president, and so far as I know, none of them were able to do what Bill Hagerty did in 2013 when he made that speech entirely in Japanese at the American Embassy in Tokyo.

That’s just one reason why I think Bill Hagerty is one of President Trump’s best nominations.

He was born in Tennessee and graduated from Vanderbilt University. He was associate editor of the Vanderbilt Law Review. He worked as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group. During his final three years there, he lived in Tokyo, and he served as senior executive managing their clients around Asia.

He was selected by President George H.W. Bush to be on his staff. There he worked on trade, commerce, defense and telecommunications issues.

He was a White House fellow.

He was founder and chairman of a company in private life that became the third largest medical research company.

He founded his own private equity and investment firm.

From 2011-2015, he was the Commissioner of Economic and Community Development for Tennessee, and in that role, working with Governor Haslam, secured $15 billion in capital investments and 90,000 jobs for our state. Two of those years Tennessee was the number one state for economic development and the number one state for job creation through Foreign Direct Investment.

He is a distinguished Eagle Scout. He was head of a capital campaign for the Scouts.

He served on the board of the Far East Council of the Scouts, encouraging growth of Boy Scouts throughout Asia.

One way he intends to continue that mission is that his two sons, who are here today, will join their respective troops in Japan following his confirmation.

And his wife Chrissy would want me to quickly add that there are two aspiring Girl Scouts in their family who will have their time to do that too.

It’s not only one of the best positions but one of most important.

There’s a reason why we’ve had such a distinguished list of ambassadors since World War II, including our former [U.S. Senate] Majority Leader Howard Baker, Jr. from Tennessee.

Mike Mansfield, another former Majority Leader who was ambassador, used to say in every speech he made that the Japanese-American alliance is the most important two-country relationship in the world “bar none.”

Ambassador Mansfield said that so often that Americans in Tokyo used to refer to our embassy as the “Bar-None Ranch.”

If you’ll permit a little parochialism, Mr. Hagerty comes from a state, Tennessee, that has the most important relationship with Japan of any state, “bar none.”

That began about 40 years ago. I remember President Carter saying to me as a new governor and to the other governors, “go to Japan, persuade them to make here what they sell here.” Off we all went. During my first 24 months as governor, I spent three weeks in Japan and eight weeks on Japan-American relations. I explained to Tennesseans that I thought I could do more good for our state in Japan than I could in Washington, D.C.

That turned out to be true — Nissan, Bridgestone, Komatsu, other companies came. By the mid-80s, we had about 10 percent of all the Japanese capital investment in the United States. This has continued. Nissan and Bridgestone have North America’s largest auto plants and tire plants in Tennessee. And, with Mr. Hagerty’s help, Bridgestone, as well as Nissan, decided to locate its North American headquarters in our state.

So, Bill Hagerty, if approved by the committee, would go to Japan not only able to speak the language, but having lived and worked there, and understanding how close ties between Japan and the United States can create bigger paychecks for Americans as well as for the Japanese.

So, my hope is that the committee will promptly approve his nomination and that he will soon be on the job and his children will be in their respective Scout troops in Japan.

Thank you very much for allowing me to come this morning.

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