In a surprise announcement laced with emotion, President Clinton tapped U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor Friday to replace Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who was killed in an April 3 plane crash.
The action came two days after Brown’s funeral; Kantor vowed in a strained voice to continue Brown’s legacy.
Clinton also filled two other vacancies among his team of senior economic officials, naming Franklin Delano Raines, now vice chairman of the Federal National Mortgage Association, to become director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and promoting Kantor’s deputy, Charlene Barshefsky, to become acting trade representative.
Kantor’s confirmation by the Republican-led Senate seems assured.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, praised Kantor while campaigning in Texas.
“He probably will be widely supported on the Republican side. I’ve worked with him, found him to be very fair and a good person to work with,” Dole said.
And Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which will first act on Kantor’s nomination, praised him as “an excellent choice.”
Clinton announced his choice of Kantor at a White House East Room ceremony dedicated to celebrating rising auto exports to Japan on the eve of his trip there next week.
The president credited the rising exports largely to Kantor’s success in negotiating 21 agreements to lower Japanese trade barriers, among some 200 such deals he struck worldwide. Clinton also noted Kantor’s leadership in helping win approval of the controversial GATT and NAFTA trade treaties.
But it was Brown’s connection to both Clinton and Kantor that gave the announcement an emotional charge rare for such events.
Both Brown and Kantor had served Clinton as key political advisers before their appointments as economic officials; Brown was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1989 to 1992, and Kantor was chairman of Clinton’s 1992 campaign.
Their shared political background helped foster a teamwork approach to administration economic policy-making that Clinton paid tribute to.
Kantor is as combative a personality as Brown was charming. They used to joke, Clinton said, that “they were the Alphonse and Gaston of our economic team. Mickey was the bad cop, Ron was the good cop. I thought we ought to give him (Kantor) a chance to be a good cop for a change.”