Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bush Picks Congressman as Trade Representative

The New York Times
March 17, 2005
Bush Picks Congressman as Trade Representative

WASHINGTON, March 17 - Representative Rob Portman, a Republican from the Cincinnati area who has long had close ties to the White House, was nominated by President Bush today to be the next United States trade representative.

Mr. Bush called Mr. Portman "a tireless advocate for America's manufacturers and entrepreneurs" and a man who has shown "a deep dedication to free and fair trade."

Once confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Bush said, Mr. Portman will be a worthy successor to Robert B. Zoellick, who has become Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's top deputy.

"I've asked him to take on a bold agenda," the president said at a White House ceremony. "We need to continue to open markets abroad by pursuing bilateral free trade agreements with partners around the world."

Mr. Portman, 49, said that he was sad to leave the House of Representatives after 12 years, but that he looked forward to working closely with lawmakers in both houses of Congress and in both parties.

Mr. Portman may have the closest ties to the White House of any member of Congress, according to The Almanac of American Politics. In 1980, a year after graduating from Dartmouth, he worked for the unsuccessful presidential campaign of George H. W. Bush. A decade later, he worked in the first Bush White House, initially in the counsel's office and then in legislative affairs.

In the House, Mr. Portman enjoyed a warm relationship with Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and got a coveted seat on the Ways and Means Committee.

In 2004, Mr. Portman campaigned hard for President Bush in Ohio, which has lost many jobs in recent years with the decline of heavy industry - a trend that Democrats tried to link in part to Republican policies. The congressman helped Vice President Dick Cheney prepare for his debate with Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, by playing the part of Mr. Edwards in rehearsals.

Ohio has always been vital to Republican presidential hopes (no member of the party has ever been elected president without carrying it), and Mr. Bush won the state by 51 to 49 percent.

Mr. Portman also has the family-business background that Mr. Bush loves to celebrate, according to The Almanac. His father owned a forklift company in Cincinnati, while his mother's family owned an inn in Lebanon, Ohio.