You Live in Robert Lighthizer’s World Now



Quinn Slobodian

Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, sat through two hours of grilling by Congress, fending off grievances about the Trump trade war’s effects on Alaskan salmon, Maine lobsters, and Delaware chickens. “Nobody is declaring war on Canada,” Lighthizer protested, even as he conceded that the use of Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum was premised indirectly on assessing that country as a national security threat. When pushed on whether he had this assessment vetted by the National Security Council, he demurred that doing so was the Commerce Department’s responsibility, not his own. Lighthizer’s performance was consumed by such efforts to smooth the ruffled feathers of his congressional inquisitors. Mostly, this involved assuring lawmakers that progress has been made in negotiations with the European Union and trade partners such as Mexico and Canada, and dispelling the impression that new tariffs on China had “stirred up a hornet’s nest of problems in other parts of the world with trusted allies,” as one congressperson put it. And yet it would be a mistake to attribute Lighthizer’s obsequious performance to a lack of self-confidence. The trial lawyer known for having a life-sized portrait of himself in his home has never lacked for the latter. And unlike most others in the Trump administration, he has known what he wants to achieve, and how, from his first day in office. Read more here.