You Can Take the U.S. Trade Representative Out of Dallas, But You Can't ... Well, You Know

Late yesterday, as the boy grew fidgety from yet another day stuck at home, we flipped on the teevee hoping to find something interesting, educational. Which meant: No Disney Channel, no nonsense. A few flips later, and there we were on C-SPAN2, listening to former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk address the House Ways & Means Committee -- his first trip to the Hill since his confirmation hearing almost two years ago.

I know, right -- exciting stuff, especially for the kids. But there was the U.S. Trade Representative yet again mentioning his tenure as Dallas mayor -- this time, at the prompting of his old friend Sam Johnson of the good ol' 3rd District, who, like the rest of the panel, wanted to know why the Obama Administration hasn't finalized trade pacts with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Kirk and Johnson are old pals: "He and I used to bet dinners," Johnson told his colleagues, "and he still owes me one."

After some friendly back-and-forthing -- "Too bad you weren't at the Super Bowl," Johnson told Kirk, "it might have been a better place to go" -- Johnson piled on the questions concerning the agreements. Said the congressman: "Mr. Ambassador, as a former mayor of Dallas, I know you're well aware of the benefits of trade to our area." Dallas, he reminded, is "the ninth-largest exporter in the U.S." Now, Johnson said, "we're spinnin' our wheels." But "if you get these three agreements signed, you won't have to buy me dinner."

To which Kirk replied, after some more ribbing: "I was incredibly honored and humbled when President Obama asked me to serve the administration this capacity. And, frankly, there were a lot people who were as little bit skeptical of me coming from Dallas for the reasons you articulated -- we believe in trade. We understand it. We've seen the impact of it in our city, our state. Texas is the No. 1 exporting state in the country. You don't need to convince me how important these agreements are to our economy." But, said Kirk, he's not the U.S. trade representative for Texas -- but for "the entire country," much of which believes the U.S. "hasn't benefited from trade."

You can watch the whole two-plus-hours hearing here. The Johnson bit begins around the 35-minute mark. Another highlight appears around the 1:07:49 mark, when Kirk yet again talks about his days as mayor, when "I always tried to govern myself with one principle -- that the truth is always an option."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky