For Fro­man, sleep wasn’t in the deal

U.S. trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive only got 8 hours of shut-eye in 5 days to ham­mer out Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY DAVID NAKA­MURA

Twenty-five years ago, Michael Fro­man helped a young stu­dent editor named Barack Obama pub­lish the Har­vard Law Re­view, bond­ing over pol­i­tics dur­ing latenight snack breaks. This month, Fro­man was pulling all-nighters again for his former class­mate, this time putting the fin­ish­ing touches on the largest in­ter­na­tional trade deal in U.S. his­tory.

Over five days and nights in At­lanta, Fro­man, the U.S. trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive, slept a to­tal of eight hours and rarely ven­tured be­low the 14th floor of a Westin ho­tel. He and his coun­ter­parts from 11 Pa­cific Rim na­tions met hour af­ter hour to ham­mer out tar­iff cuts and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty reg­u­la­tions. In rare free mo­ments, Fro­man slipped down to the Star­bucks in the lobby, only to be ac­costed by a New Zealand dairy lob­by­ist or a Ja­panese jour­nal­ist.

“In­ter­na­tional diplo­macy is not el­e­gant,” Fro­man said with a chuckle dur­ing an in­ter­view at the U.S. trade of­fice, across the street from the White House.

His hard work paid off. Early last week, Fro­man tied a bow on the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP), an ex­pan­sive free trade and reg­u­la­tory deal that was more than seven years in the mak­ing. The ac­cord is one of Pres­i­dent Obama’s top pri­or­i­ties, and when Fro­man re­turned to Wash­ing­ton, the pres­i­dent gave him a big hug and said, “Well done.”

For Fro­man, 53, the trade deal rep­re­sents a ca­reer high­light in a decade and a half of pub­lic ser­vice han­dling in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic pol­icy for the Clin­ton and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions. In be­tween, he spent eight years on Wall Street as the head of Cit­i­group’s in­sur­ance divi­sion, but it was his re­la­tion­ship with Obama that drew him back to Wash­ing­ton, first as a cam­paign ad­viser, then as part of the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Fro­man has been called the White House’s chief strate­gic

and sales­man on the Pa­cific trade deal, a pol­icy wonk whose mas­tery of the trade minu­tiae and con­stant pres­ence on Capi­tol Hill has in­spired a level of “From an fa­tigue” in some con­gres­sional of­fices.

The job has not been easy. Some law­mak­ers ac­cused him of be­ing se­cre­tive and opaque dur­ing the trade talks; la­bor lead­ers and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists said he was prone to mak­ing empty prom­ises and blow­ing off their con­cerns.

The trade of­fice’s con­sul­ta­tions have been “pa­thet­i­cally in­ad­e­quate,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (DOhio) told Fro­man at a trade hear­ing in April. Brown added that it was eas­ier to get in­for­ma­tion about the Iran nu­clear deal or doc­u­ments from the CIA.

Fro­man coun­tered that his of­fice had held hun­dreds of brief­ings on Capi­tol Hill and con­sulted 51 times with Brown’s of­fice alone, in­clud­ing seven face-to-face meet­ings. But the sen­a­tor wasn’t sat­is­fied: “It begs the ques­tion: What are you hid­ing?” Brown de­clined to com­ment for this ar­ti­cle, but his aides dis­puted Fro­man’s tally.

Fro­man in­sists he doesn’t take the crit­i­cism per­son­ally and said the tough pol­i­tics was one rea­son he agreed to be­come trade am­bas­sador in 2013, af­ter spend­ing Obama’s first term as deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser for in­ter­na­tional eco­nom­ics.

Hav­ing helped launch the ad­min­is­tra­tion down the path to sup­port­ing the con­tentious trade deal, Fro­man re­called telling the pres­i­dent: “‘I want to make sure we ex­e­cute on this prop­erly.’ He agreed.”

His work is not any­where close to done. The trade deal must still be rat­i­fied by Congress, which will vote early next year. Al­ready, in­flu­en­tial politi­cians, in­clud­ing Sen. Or­rin G. Hatch( R-Utah) and Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Rod ham Clin­ton, have crit­i­cized the agree­ment.

So Fro­man hasn’t stopped sell­ing. He made the rounds on Capi­tol Hill in the days af­ter the trade deal was an­nounced and took a train to Delaware on Fri­day to tout the agree­ment with Demo­cratic Sens. Thomas R. Carper and Christo­pher A. Coons.

“An­other chap­ter needs to be writ­ten in ‘Pro­files in Courage,’ ” said Rep. Ron Kind (Wis.), one of the 28 House Democrats, out of 188, who voted to grant Obama spe­cial author­ity in June to com­plete the trade deal. “Mike has one of the calmest de­meanors; noth­ing ever rat­tles him.”

Kind then set an­other high bar for him :“If the pres­i­dent and Mike did their job, we should be well north of 28 Demo­cratic sup­port­ersin the House, now that they can point to lan­guage of what has ac­tu­ally been ac­com­plished.”

Fro­man has a ge­nial de­meanor and can-do at­ti­tude that may be the nat­u­ral byprod­ucts of a life marked by a rapid rise to power but punc­tu­ated by per­sonal tragedy. In Jan­uary 2009, just days be­fore Obama was sworn in, Fro­man’s el­dest son, Ja­cob, 10, died of a rare form of pe­di­atric brain can­cer. Fro­man was in New York for the funeral and, al­though he was a mem­ber of Obama’s tran­si­tion team, watched the in­au­gu­ra­tion on tele­vi­sion.

“Some peo­ple say to me, ‘Oh, Mike must work so hard so he does not have to think about this,’ ” said Miriam Sapiro, Fro­man’s former deputy. “But he’s al­ways worked hard.”

In fact, there was a ker­nel of truth in the anal­y­sis.

Ini­tially, Fro­man had de­cided not to en­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tion be­cause he was con­cerned about the de­mands a White House job would take on his fam­ily as they sought to care for his sick son. When it be­came clear that Ja­cob would not sur­vive, Fro­man re­con­thinker sidered and talked it over with Obama.

“I re­mem­ber me say­ing, ‘I did not think I would come into the ad­min­is­tra­tion, but now I feel like I may very well need to come in to deal with this,’ ” Fro­man said. Over the years, Fro­man and Vice Pres­i­dent Bi­den, who has suf­fered his own fam­ily losses, have of­fered sup­port for each other and talked about how throw­ing them­selves into their work helped them with their grief, as­so­ci­ates said.

At the White House, Fro­man served as the “sherpa” to the mas­sive Group of Eight and Group of 20 eco­nomic sum­mits each year. He also or­ga­nized in­ter­a­gency meet­ings to for­mu­late the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s po­si­tion on the TPP, talks on which had be­gun un­der the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that it would re-join the talks in 2010, as part of a strat­egy to shift U.S. for­eign pol­icy at­ten­tion to­ward Asia.

Dur­ing that time, Fro­man’s wife, Nancy Good­man, founded a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, Kids v. Can­cer, that pro­motes pe­di­atric can­cer re­search. The group helped write the Cre­at­ing Hope Act, a mea­sure passed by Congress in 2012 that pro­vides fed­eral in­cen­tives to spur the de­vel­op­ment of can­cer drugs.

On a wall in Fro­man’s of­fice hangs a framed photo of his daugh­ter, Sarah, then 1 1/2 and wear­ing a pink dress, chas­ing Obama around his desk in the Oval Of­fice on the day the pres­i­dent signed the bill. Fro­man and Good­man have an­other son, Benjamin, 13, who is a mem­ber of the rock band Twenty20 with the sons of other White House staff mem­bers, in­clud­ing former press sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney.

Fro­man knows the lyrics to the band’s songs, and he re­cently dashed out of his of­fice — on a Sun­day — to catch a Twenty20 show at a block party. Years ago, when they lived in New York City, he and his wife in­vited the mu­si­cian Bono, who lived down the street, to their home to make pizza for din­ner. Benjamin showed Bono’s sons how to play the mu­si­cal video game Gui­tar Hero.

“We’re singing Bea­tles songs on Gui­tar Hero with Bono,” Fro­man said, shak­ing his head in dis­be­lief at the mem­ory. They’ve kept in touch — Fro­man at­tend­ing U2 con­certs and Bono, whose ONE Cam­paign ad­vo­cates erad­i­cat­ing poverty and dis­ease in de­vel­op­ing na­tions, bend­ing Fro­man’s ear on U.S. eco­nomic pol­icy in Africa.

Fro­man ex­hibits no hint of ex­haus­tion, de­spite hav­ing trav­eled to two dozen coun­tries for his job. But his boss is de­ter­mined to keep him in­spired and en­er­gized. On a shelf near his desk is a small book ti­tled, “Lin­coln’s Speeches & Writ­ings” — a birth­day gift from the pres­i­dent.

“Thanks for your tire­less work this year,” Obama wrote in the in­scrip­tion. “Here are a few words from a pre­de­ces­sor of mine.”


U.S. trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Fro­man is mobbed by Ja­panese re­porters in April dur­ing the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship process.


In a photo that hangs in the of­fice of U.S. trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Fro­man, be­low, Pres­i­dent Obama plays with Fro­man’s daugh­ter, Sarah. Fro­man and the pres­i­dent have a re­la­tion­ship that stretches back to their time on the Har­vard Law Re­view.


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