WASHINGTON — In the early 2000s, after Michael Froman decamped from the Clinton Treasury Department for Wall Street, he called his old law school colleague Lori Wallach, now an anti-globalization activist, with an unusual proposal.
[Reposted from The New York Times | Jonathan Weisman | April 27, 2015]
Would she fly to Citigroup’s training center in Westchester County, N.Y., to explain to company executives from around the world that liberal activists who had derailed a World Trade Organization expansion were not all fuzzy-headed anarchists and should be taken seriously?
“Really?” she recalled shouting incredulously to the assistant who took the call, before making an offer she figured he would have to refuse. “Tell them my speaking fee is $20,000, and I need a private plane right to Westchester.”
Demands met, her assistant shouted back, “We should’ve asked for $50,000.”
Ms. Wallach, the longtime leader of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and a skeptic on what she calls “job killing” trade agreements, and Mr. Froman, the United States trade representative trying to land the largest trade accord in a generation, have occupied different worlds and economic stratospheres since their days at Harvard Law School.
But their lives keep intersecting in policy imbroglios. Officials in Mr. Froman’s office — who dispute Ms. Wallach’s version of the Citigroup episode — denounce her as an alarmist demagogue whose organization has used distortion and scare tactics to discredit free trade. Ms. Wallach and her liberal allies call Mr. Froman a toady to corporate America — and arrogant to boot.
As Congress considers giving another Harvard Law colleague from that era, President Obama, special “fast track” authority to negotiate a 12-nation Pacific trade accord, the two lawyers find themselves on opposing armies in one of the biggest legislative fights of the Obama presidency. Among those nations are Japan, Australia and Chile, and smaller economies like Brunei, Peru and Vietnam.
Loyalties to the two opposing forces are stark.
“I’ve questioned Froman on Brunei. I’ve questioned him on food safety. I’ve questioned him on not doing anything when Peru walked back from environmental regulations. Nothing,” fumed Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, a fierce foe of the trade promotion authority legislation nearing House consideration and of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that such authority would ease to completion.
By contrast, “Lori Wallach? She’s got such granular knowledge,” she said. “She’s my source of information and knowledge.”
Republicans have lauded Mr. Froman for his full-throttle effort to secure the trade accord and his constant availability to them. Likewise, Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, a Democrat more open to the trade bills, shrugged off the hostility expressed by many in his party.
“When I’m asking burning questions about human rights and labor rights and the environment and communist Vietnam, I know I’m dealing with a professional,” he said of Mr. Froman.
Clearly, though, many lawmakers have lost patience with Mr. Froman. As a result, a hard-fought compromise on the trade promotion bill approved by the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees last week practically legislates better relations.
One unusual provision says that if members of Congress request a meeting or ask the trade representative a question, his office has to respond. The bill would also allow congressional aides with the proper security clearance to go into rooms with the Trans-Pacific Partnership texts and read them without lawmakers or officials from the trade representative’s office present.
“This is not personal,” said Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont and another opponent of the trade effort. “It’s clearly the rules that have been established in terms of transparency. It’s been a disgrace, frankly.”
Fomenting much of that umbrage is Ms. Wallach, whose tactics, detailed treatises and Capitol Hill briefings have torn apart the chapters of the Pacific accord that have leaked out. She has castigated Mr. Froman’s tight control over the contents of the agreement and dismissed efforts by Republicans and Democrats to find common ground as smoke screens for a big-business agenda.
In February, using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, Public Citizen emailed a faux Valentine, ostensibly from Mr. Froman, saying: “If I have betrayed your trust, I am sorry that you feel that way. I’ve been so focused on convincing you to take the Fast Track trip with me and buy those trade deals I love, I’ve said some things that, in retrospect, were not true.”
Specifically, Public Citizen accused him of misrepresenting the results of past trade agreements.
Ms. Wallach’s role as antagonist to Mr. Froman has been decades in the making. At Harvard, the two ran in very different circles. The closest they came was a small campus building that housed both The Harvard Law Review, where the future president and his future trade negotiator were editors, and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, where she was an officer.
As for the future president, Ms. Wallach worked with him during a divisive campaign to bring more diversity to the Harvard Law faculty and again on an effort to save Harvard’s program advising law students on public interest careers, said John Bonifaz, a campaign finance reformer and Wallach ally who was at Harvard at the time.
Mr. Froman was part of neither effort.
“He was more a corporate law type,” Mr. Bonifaz said. “A lot of people at law school were focused on going out and making a ton of money.”
In fact, that was not Mr. Froman’s initial career path. Straight out of law school, he went to Albania to help that tiny impoverished nation’s legal system. He spent most of the 1990s in the Clinton administration, at the White House and at Treasury, finally following Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin to Citigroup in 2001, only to return to Washington in 2009 to join the Obama White House as an emissary to international economic organizations.
Through it all, his path kept crossing Ms. Wallach’s. In 1998, she bedeviled the Clinton administration with her campaign to deny the president new fast-track trade authority, a fight her side won. In 1999, as Mr. Rubin’s chief of staff at Treasury, Mr. Froman clashed with her over international efforts to expand the World Trade Organization, a campaign that died after anti-globalization activists rioted in Seattle.
Recalling her appearance before Citigroup executives at Mr. Froman’s behest, she said that ultimately she did not take the $20,000 speaking fee, settling for her standard, much smaller amount and a commercial flight. She told the executives that trade agreements were protecting corporations at the expense of poor people, keeping pharmaceutical prices high and access to food difficult.
A spokesman for the trade representative’s office, Matthew McAlvanah, took issue with Ms. Wallach’s account.
Mr. Froman “doesn’t recall Ms. Wallach from law school,” he said. “He does remember that she attended a Citigroup meeting but that her demands for a private jet and an exorbitant speaker fee were rejected. She participated anyway.”
Their last one-on-one meeting took place three years ago, when he was Mr. Obama’s emissary to the Group of 20 and Group of 8 international economic organizations. The meeting was cordial but unproductive, she said. Late last year, Mr. Froman attended a meeting of liberal and labor groups to pitch fast-track status and the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, running into Ms. Wallach again.
“He had his head handed to him,” she recalled.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership would be the most significant trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1993, linking nations representing 40 percent of the world’s economic output.
Many of those negotiating partners — especially Japan — have said they cannot agree to enter the partnership unless Congress grants the president trade promotion authority, which would allow Congress an up-or-down vote on the final accord without the right to amend it. Without such authority for the president, negotiators would be afraid to sign off on an agreement, only to see it muddied by Congress.
“If they like the trade agreement, they like Mr. Froman,” said Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat and a skeptic on free-trade agreements. “The critics say he is too secretive, and I think the administration is trying to change that now.”
Ms. Wallach said she offered advice to her old adversary a year ago that he should have taken: Publish the text of the trade agreement. If the accord was so great, then everyone should be able see it, she says she told him. Otherwise, people would believe what they wanted to believe. He declined, much to her advantage.
“If I was the White House, I wouldn’t want him on the Hill anymore,” she said, with some good cheer. “For obvious reasons, I’m for having him there every day.”