Trading Places: Former Export-Import Bank Chair Discusses Trade

On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump vowed to close the 83-year-old Export-Import Bank of the United States. Three months into office, he changed his mind. The Senate Banking Committee on Thursday announced it will begin confirmation hearings on Nov. 1 for the five appointees Trump nominated to sit on the board of the bank. That includes Trump’s nominee for chairman and president, former New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett, one of the bank’s most vocal critics.

Created by President Franklin Roosevelt, the Export-Import Bank provides loan guarantees to American companies selling to foreign customers. Large corporations like Boeing, General Electric and auto manufacturers have all received financing from the bank.

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“Its role is to provide financing for massive projects, ones that create and support jobs. That’s why FDR created the bank,” said Fred Hochberg, former chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank. Hochberg is spending autumn as a fellow at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, where he’s meeting with students, teaching and interviewing guest speakers as part of his eight-week seminar, “The Politics of Globalization: How Trade Became a Four-Letter Word.”

“There’s a good chance NAFTA could fall apart, which is shocking,” Hochberg said. “U.S. is starting to be seen as a government you don’t want to enter into deals with. In this polarized political situation, I’d say prospects for future trade deals are increasingly grim.”

Hochberg had a taste of partisan politics as head of the Export-Import Bank from 2009-2017. While there, the bank was targeted by conservative critics and Tea Party activists as an example of big government and corporate welfare. For four months in 2015 it wasn’t operating as it waited for Congress to renew its charter.

“There were a small minority of Republicans who wanted to make a headline,” Hochberg said. “The bank’s charter was about to lapse and we became a target of ultra-conservatives critics. Ultimately wiser heads prevailed. The charter was approved and the Export-Import Bank was open for business again,” he said.

As one of the highest-ranking LGBT Americans to serve under any administration, Hochberg is also concerned with what he sees as the rollback of gay rights in America.

“We were making steady progress under President Obama, moving in the right direction, but President Trump and Vice President Pence want to move us backwards,” he said. “The climate of tolerance for gay Americans may be OK in Chicago, but not in the small towns around the U.S. In most states, people can be still fired for being gay. That’s still legal. And I still remember the days when I felt uncomfortable being open about my sexuality in the corporate world.”

Hochberg joins Phil Ponce in conversation.  

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