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Bill Hagerty embraces diplomatic roots: “I’ll stay here longer than Joe Biden”

After Tennessee lost two influential GOP powers to Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker – whose back-to-back retirements deprived Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of a consigliere and the Foreign Relations Committee of its top Republican – Hagerty se focuses on foreign affairs to make its mark. He mixes things up by supporting some of Biden’s more polarizing candidates while consistently voting alongside other conservatives on most Senate business.

“A US Senator has a term that is longer than the President of the United States – is not limited in time. A US senator has the ability to think long term, on a strategic basis. And that’s exactly what I came here to do, ”Hagerty said in a half-hour interview in his Capitol Hill office that was once occupied by the then senator. Lyndon Baines Johnson.

It’s sort of a statement on the state of the modern GOP that Hagerty stands out within it, even blaming Biden for the disorderly U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, failure to impose sanctions on a Russian pipeline, and its stance towards China. But it remains an outlier in a party generally inclined to cede the most brutal political instruments against Biden: Hagerty called Biden’s trade chief a “bright spot” and hailed the new US-British submarine deal. -Australian, which he said has stepped up the quadrilateral security dialogue. in the Indo-Pacific. This comes on top of his rescue from the appointment of Rahm Emanuel, the longtime Democratic lawmaker and mayor who has drawn opposition from the left.

“I am ready to applaud them and support them where I think they are going in the right direction,” Hagerty said. “But, at the same time, I’m going to be very clear to call them when they are moving in the opposite direction.”

Rarely does an early-term senator focus so deliberately on foreign affairs – a Capitol arena long dominated by old bulls who tend to outlive presidents and adhere to the famous phrase “politics stops. at the water’s edge “, the idea that political concerns should not cloud relations with foreign countries. Foreign affairs is also a political area where the loudest supporters are less effective and the spotlight shines the least, meaning ambitious first-year lawmakers often shy away from it.

As Emanuel faced backlash from the Liberals over his record as mayor of Chicago, Hagerty vigorously defended him and went so far as to introduce the longtime Democrat at his confirmation hearing. The 62-year-old conservative said he and Emanuel “agreed on the threat posed by China” and “the essential role that Japan can play in it.”

“I would be surprised if there was a single problem on the domestic policy front that Rahm Emanuel and I would agree to,” Hagerty joked. “[But] I thought it was important that the Japanese people – and frankly China, North Korea, and anyone else who might watch too …

Hagerty’s opposition to Biden’s major foreign policy initiatives is notably to the right of Corker, who has often acted as a GOP informer on key foreign affairs issues throughout his two terms in the upper house. For example, Corker led the charge to give the Senate a vote on President Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran; Hagerty’s National Security Advisor Robert Zarate is a longtime Senate foreign policy official who helped rally GOP opposition to the deal.

Indeed, unlike Corker, who spent the end of his career denouncing the former president, Hagerty is as pro-Trump as they come. When he took office in January, Hagerty hired several former Trump aides in the White House to staff his DC office. And throughout his short term in the Senate, Hagerty promoted Trump’s foreign policy – everything from his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran to his efforts to suppress China.

“President Trump has a long list of foreign policy accomplishments that not only should be proud of, but that have advanced America’s interests in a positive way,” Hagerty said, bouncing easily from topic to topic. the other. “You talk about China’s predatory posture – President Trump has denounced it.”

Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Who sits with Hagerty on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, enthusiastically supported Hagerty’s appointment as Ambassador to Japan in 2017, and now co-chairs the subcommittee of the State Department panel alongside Hagerty. Cardin said Hagerty was on the verge of reclaiming the state’s traditional foreign policy firepower, but hailed Corker as a more independent voice on the world stage.

“Each person is unique – Bob Corker is a dear friend, he has really created an incredible knowledge base and reputation in foreign policy,” Cardin said in a brief interview. “Sen. Hagerty is just getting started, but he’s very serious about foreign policy.

Hagerty was the president of the Trump campaign in 2016 in Tennessee, and then served as director of presidential appointments on the Trump transition team. Prior to that, he headed the Tennessee Department of Economic Development and served as chief financial officer for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. He previously worked in private equity at the Boston Consulting Group, a mandate that included a three-year stay in Tokyo, and speaks conversational Japanese.

“[Hagerty] has the right temperament – not only to represent us in the diplomatic arena, but also to work with colleagues, to discuss issues where there is a principled disagreement, ”said Indiana Senator Todd Young, who chaired the GOP campaign in the Senate. year in which Hagerty was elected and disagrees with him on matters of war power.

But Hagerty’s efforts have extended far beyond the walls of the Foreign Relations Committee meeting space on Capitol Hill.

After the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, Hagerty flew to London and Brussels to meet his parliamentary counterparts and strengthen Allied cooperation on the security situation. His message?

“I’m going to be staying here longer than Joe Biden, and we have to work together as the threat has escalated now,” Hagerty said, recounting his conversations.

He also sought accountability in other ways. After seeing other countries fire the leaders responsible for the Afghanistan debacle, Hagerty asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken – whose appointment he backed – in a public hearing whether he had offered his resignation to the president .

His conservative allies have adopted other tactics to force action, such as delaying State Department and Pentagon candidates until their demands are met. Hagerty doesn’t work that way. Instead, he comes across as a foreign policy foil for Biden.

After Israel and Hamas militants engaged in a fierce gunfire earlier this year, Hagerty flew to Israel in support of the American ally, believing that Biden and other Democrats did not support not enough the Israeli government’s response to Hamas rockets.

It was an unusual move by a congressman, influenced by his diplomatic experience.

“The messages that have come out of the Biden administration have made me, from time to time, upset what is going on here, get on a plane and do what I have learned to do as a man. business and as a diplomat, ”Hagerty says. “And that is to step in, to face the problem head-on, to find pragmatic solutions and to let them know that you are there and that you are ready to work. “

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