Washington state’s Rep. Reichert takes aim at top trade job

Washington Republican Rep. Dave Reichert.
Washington Republican Rep. Dave Reichert.

If the dominoes fall his way, Washington state Republican Rep. Dave Reichert could head the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee next year, making him one of Congress’ most influential players on international trade pacts.

With the GOP expected to maintain control of the House of Representatives in the Nov. 4 elections, maneuvering for leadership positions is well under way for the newly elected Congress that will convene in January.

“I would say it’s probably a 50-50 shot. … There could be some shifting going on that may present an opportunity for me to be the chair of the trade subcommittee,” Reichert said in an interview.

Reichert, 64, of Auburn, Wash., could get his break if California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the current subcommittee chair, takes over as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Nunes has been campaigning for the post since April.

Reichert, a former King County sheriff who was elected to Congress in 2004, would face competition from at least one other Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana. Reichert presumably would have the edge because he has more seniority on the panel. Boustany said earlier this year that he wanted to lead the subcommittee as a way to focus on energy issues in trade as a way to help his state.

But Reichert’s fate also could be tied to the outcome of a contest over who will lead the full Ways and Means Committee: Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican 2012 vice presidential nominee who’s considered the favorite, or Kevin Brady, another veteran GOP congressman from Texas.

Reichert, who currently chairs the House Ways and Means human resources subcommittee, said he’s likely to jump at the chance to take the new job, noting that he’s already a senior member of the trade subcommittee.

“If it presented itself as a possibility, I would probably take that position because I think it really benefits the state of Washington,” Reichert said. “As the chairman, you can direct the hearings and have a little bit more input into the direction that the committee’s going to benefit the country.”

A move by Reichert would come as welcome news for trade backers in Washington state, where a recent study showed that four of every 10 jobs are now tied to global trade.

“That would be fantastic in my opinion,” said Eric Schinfeld, the president of the Washington Council on International Trade.

“It’s really quite an amazing story,” he said. “I mean, this is a guy who was elected to Congress as a sheriff, with no trade policy experience behind him. And he becomes not only one of the most reliable trade supporters but really a very strong leader influencing other members of Congress.”

As a sheriff, Reichert won national recognition for heading the Green River Task Force, helping solve a large serial murder case.

In Congress, he has developed a reputation as a moderate Republican, a staunch pro-trader who supports the bulk of President Barack Obama’s trade proposals, which have come under attack from many GOP conservatives and liberal Democrats.

Among other things, Reichert backs Obama’s aggressive plan to expand trade throughout the Pacific Rim and wants to give the president special “fast-track authority” that would force Congress to vote on trade pacts without amending them. A year ago, he helped create the Friends of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Caucus as a way to build support for the proposed deal.

In Washington, D.C., Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a business advocacy group, said Reichert would be “a good pick” for the job.

“He would certainly hit the ground running,” Reinsch said.

But Reinsch said others seeking the job would also be good and that a decision on who heads the subcommittee ultimately could come down to “regional differences and individual personalities.” He said Brady, who headed the trade subcommittee before Nunes, might want his old job back if he doesn’t get to head the full Ways and Means Committee.

“All of them, it seems to me, are reasonably pro-trade, so I don’t see policy differences playing a big role,” Reinsch said.

Reichert faces opposition from some opponents who are working hard to derail Obama’s trade plans. They say more trade would do little but help large businesses while chasing more U.S. jobs to foreign countries and putting more downward pressure on wages for American workers.

“Mr. Reichert’s trade policies would undoubtedly help rich and powerful corporations get a little richer, but only at the expense of ordinary working families in Washington state and beyond,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the Citizens Trade Campaign, a coalition of labor, environmental, farm, consumer and human rights groups. “Thankfully, many of his constituents and others have been organizing to frustrate his race-to-the-bottom vision of globalization.”

Reichert, who’s often mentioned as a possible candidate to oppose Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in 2016, is hoping that Republicans control both houses of Congress next year.

If the GOP wins control of the Senate, he said it will be easier to get Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific trade pact if it’s successfully negotiated by the Obama administration.

“We’ve been struggling with TPP,” Reichert said. “For Washington state, with 40 percent of jobs directly connected and related to trade and with the Asian-Pacific countries that are engaged in this discussion, this would really be a big jobs bill. ... And I think that we would have a much better opportunity with a Republican-led Senate to get our trade opportunities expedited and passed.”

Reichert wants Congress to vote on Obama’s request for fast-track trade authority when it meets in a lame-duck session next month, saying that would set the stage to move on the Trans-Pacific trade pact early next year.

Without fast-track authority, Reichert said, the “the TPP is not going anywhere.”