‘Good’ is not going to chop it for Biden’s man in Canada
However Cohen, who arrived in Ottawa on Dec. 1, has much more on his plate than potatoes: The 2 international locations are within the midst of significant conversations — if not outright disputes — over lumber, dairy, oil pipelines, China, protection spending, vital minerals, digital taxes, gun smuggling and local weather change.
As Biden’s envoy, he’s the designated level individual in repairing a broken friendship.
Canadians had been relying on the brand new president to appease tensions after 4 years of turbulence beneath Donald Trump. Biden’s predecessor threatened to tear up the North American Free Commerce Settlement, slapped tariffs on Canadian metal and aluminum, and lobbed public insults at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
However on his first day in workplace, Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline undertaking and vowed to strengthen made-in-America guidelines. Biden’s “Construct Again Higher” marketing campaign advanced into laws that included a tax credit score for American-made electrical automobiles.
All of it however set off a commerce warfare.
The connection is a giant deal. Canada is America’s top trading partner and No. 1 export market, the place 17.5 % of all world U.S. items exports went final 12 months.
Even now, with the U.S. midterms closing in, fear nonetheless programs by means of Canadian enterprise circles over what they see because the president’s protectionist agenda.
POLITICO sat down with Cohen to raised perceive what he’s in Ottawa to do. We additionally spoke to lobbyists and enterprise leaders about that work and the obstacles in the best way.
Frictions are removed from one-sided.
The American enterprise group has issues about Trudeau’s risk to impose a unilateral tax on digital giants, most of that are U.S. firms.
The international locations have additionally been at odds over what the U.S. has known as Canada’s still-too-low protection spending, particularly as NATO furiously arms Ukraine in opposition to Russia. And so they’ve not at all times been aligned on post-Covid administration of the border, the place final 12 months $2.6 billion price of commerce moved backwards and forwards each day.
On high of that, longer-running disputes over dairy and softwood lumber have just lately flared up.
Trudeau — who raised Canada’s EV frustration with Biden throughout a D.C. go to final fall — had been involved concerning the course of the brand new administration even earlier than Cohen arrived on the scene.
Days after Cohen turned up in Ottawa, Trudeau formally tasked a number of of his Cupboard ministers to engage the U.S. on “bilateral trade issues and protectionist measures.”
The ministers had their directives. So did the brand new ambassador.
Gritty roots, ‘rock star’ connections
Cohen made his identify as a public servant whereas working as chief of workers within the Nineties for then-Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell. Though he labored behind the scenes, Cohen emerged as a outstanding determine in a metropolis that was struggling to drag itself out of robust occasions and a budgetary sinkhole.
The Philadelphia job led him to different positions — as accomplice for Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll and later as Comcast’s chief lobbyist in Washington.
Alongside the best way, Cohen constructed a Rolodex of highly effective contacts — Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Biden — and befriended lawmakers who had been on their approach up.
He developed right into a political fundraiser with “rock star status” in Washington.
“I’ve been right here a lot,” then-president Obama stated of Cohen’s Philadelphia residence throughout a Democratic fundraiser there in 2013, according to a profile in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The one factor I haven’t finished on this home is have (Passover) seder dinner.”
Apparently, Cohen and his spouse Rhonda know the way to throw a celebration.
Rendell, Cohen’s former boss who later turned Pennsylvania’s governor, tells POLITICO he’s attended virtually the entire huge fundraisers the Cohens have hosted at their home, together with one for Biden in 2019 on the day he announced his presidential campaign.
“I’m certain she’ll replicate it in Ottawa, however Rhonda Cohen makes the perfect pigs in a blanket I’ve ever tasted,” Rendell stated. “And I’d contemplate myself an professional.”
Philly lawyer Stephen Cozen, Cohen’s pal of some 45 years, has been an everyday on the gatherings.
“Not solely nice events, however we’ve raised tons of cash,” stated Cozen, who additionally spoke of Cohen’s community. “His relationship with Barack is an effective one. … He’s very, very near Joe and has recognized Joe longer.”
Cozen stated Cohen helped increase cash for these “who did work and helped the town or the state” even when there have been variations philosophically or on coverage.
The ambassador should put politics apart — he solely has a couple of years to get the U.S.-Canada relationship again on monitor.
‘Feared in a great way’
Cohen isn’t just a bundler. He’s established himself as an issue solver.
Rendell says people who come to Cohen’s conferences higher be prepared as a result of the ambassador is understood for his meticulous preparation.
He recalled Cohen’s essential function in serving to drive down metropolis spending in Philadelphia for the then-mayor.
They arrived in workplace with the town’s funds a large number. The challenges included a $250 million deficit on a $1.6 billion working funds that compelled them to hunt for any approach to save cash with out affecting providers within the already overtaxed metropolis, Rendell stated.
To search out methods to slash prices, Cohen chaired conferences with particular person metropolis commissioners liable for every part from policing to sanitation.
“The commissioners discovered in a short time that they couldn’t shuck and jive David,” Rendell stated. “David learn all their materials, all their experiences, all their information and he knew them in addition to they did moving into. … That made him revered and admired by the workers,” Rendell stated. “Additionally slightly bit feared — however feared in a great way.”
However for all of Cohen’s apply in the dead of night arts of lobbying and budget-trimming, the brand new ambassador has launched his time up north with a attraction offensive.
After arriving in Ottawa in December 2021 seemingly minus a winter coat, Biden’s envoy went to work establishing his bona fides.
He immersed himself in Canadiana — sampling local bagels, visiting Tim Hortons, dropping the puck at middle ice. “A (scrumptious) ceremony of passage for U.S. Ambassadors to Canada!” Cohen wrote in a single social media submit the place he sampled deep-fried dough from a BeaverTails shack.
Cohen even graciously lost a soccer bet he initiated with Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S.
Throughout these early weeks, as Ottawa was coping with its newest wave of Covid-19, Cohen’s Twitter feed documented digital and in-person conferences with a lineup of key Cupboard ministers, together with Chrystia Freeland, Mélanie Joly, Marie-Claude Bibeau, François-Philippe Champagne, Jean-Yves Duclos, Marco Mendicino and Jonathan Wilkinson.
He sat with enterprise leaders, premiers and outstanding gamers from Trudeau’s orbit, like his former principal secretary Gerry Butts and former central banker Mark Carney.
Assembly by assembly, Cohen is on a mission to deal with what he describes as “virtually the harm” brought on by the earlier administration.
“I can’t inform you what number of occasions I’ve been requested the query, on or off the report, of — simply the place does Canada stand with america?” stated Cohen.
“There’s a thirst for a restoration of the complete friendship and full partnership and full ally-ship. … And I’ve type of grafted that onto my job.”
It hasn’t helped that, a 12 months and a half since taking workplace, Biden himself has but to go to Canada, however Cohen insists his boss is “eager” to make the trip. Discovering the proper second has been a problem for a presidency that has coincided with the pandemic, border restrictions and Russia’s warfare on Ukraine.
Trudeau, after all, has met with the president a number of occasions on the world stage at summits such because the G-7, G-20 and NATO. The prime minister met Biden in D.C. final fall, a couple of weeks earlier than he issued the protectionism-fighting directives to his Cupboard.
On that journey, Trudeau’s overarching goal was to push again on what Canada known as the president’s “discriminatory” proposed tax incentive designed to encourage U.S. shoppers to purchase American-made electrical automobiles.
The prime minister warned the transfer may inflict important harm on the auto sector in each international locations.
From there, the trouble ran by means of diplomatic channels in Ottawa and Washington.
Flavio Volpe, the plainspoken, influential head of the Automotive Components Producers’ Affiliation, stated for the primary time in years his lobbying work included going by means of the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.
It was a swap from the Trump years when, he stated, many Canadian lobbyists went on to Washington with their complaints.
“[Cohen’s] predecessor had a really robust private relationship with the previous president — however the former president was a nutjob,” Volpe stated of former U.S. ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft.
“I had zero confidence that any of [our concerns] had a sympathetic ear there.”
The bilateral EV beef was resolved late final month, due to a change to a provision in the $700 billion spending deal struck between Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Senate Majority Chief Chuck Schumer. The brand new laws extends the clear automobile credit score to these made in North America.
However there are new issues that the Inflation Discount Act could threaten Canadian competitiveness with its $370 billion funding in clear expertise. Canada, trade advocates argue, should increase its investments in cleantech to maintain up.
Ottawa, for its half, has irked the U.S. with a few of its protectionist proposals.
The Trudeau authorities, for instance, has threatened to go it alone with a digital services tax in opposition to tech giants ought to the OECD fail to launch a multilateral strategy by Jan. 1, 2024. U.S. Commerce Consultant Katherine Tai has expressed “serious concerns” concerning the plan and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called the Canadian proposal “discriminatory” and in violation of commerce agreements.
Not every part, after all, is a slow-motion prepare wreck between two economies trying to defend their home industries and shoppers.
There are additionally many alternatives for the neighbors to work collectively. Biden and Trudeau launched a “road map” in the early days of the presidency that commits to deeper collaboration in key areas, together with local weather change, protection and demanding minerals.
On China, Cohen’s already made headlines in Canada for saying the U.S. was looking forward to seeing its neighbor’s updated China policy.
The long-awaited framework is predicted within the coming months as a part of Canada’s Indo-Pacific technique.
When requested if the Biden administration wish to see a more-assertive stance in the direction of Beijing from Ottawa, Cohen stated it’s no secret Canada has had a “chummier” relationship with China than the U.S.
He added that Canada, after all, wants house to find out its place.
“A part of being mates and allies is that we every should respect the sovereignty of our international locations,” he stated, including there’s “plenty of dialog” between the 2 governments on China.
Within the early days as ambassador, Cohen moved shortly to deal with any cold-shoulder emotions from America.
He made the case throughout one early dialogue with enterprise leaders final January that the cross-border bond wasn’t practically in as dangerous form as they could have heard.
“He was very clear that the connection between Canada and the U.S. is admittedly necessary and [said], ‘Don’t imagine every part you learn that it’s not good,’” Dennis Darby, president and CEO of Canadian Producers & Exporters, informed POLITICO about his preliminary assembly with Cohen.
Good or dangerous, many in Ottawa really feel the connection has develop into much less a real partnership and extra transactional.
“When that occurs, then we give attention to irritants,” stated Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, who additionally attended the assembly.
Mark Agnew, the Chamber’s senior vp of coverage and authorities relations, stated final week that protectionism very a lot stays a priority with the Biden administration because it advances on “Purchase America” and “Purchase American.”
“It’s simply been regularly tightening the screws,” Agnew stated. “I don’t suppose that’s totally different than every other U.S. president, however it simply continues alongside that very same trajectory.”
Canadians are conscious that Biden’s precedence is to navigate home pressures forward of this fall’s midterms and the 2024 presidential election. There’s concern commerce has already been sidelined.
In dialog with POLITICO, Cohen pushed again. The ambassador leaned into an argument that’s virtually definitely been on repeat since his arrival in Ottawa. “I truly don’t suppose america has adopted a protectionist perspective towards Canada,” stated Cohen, who is understood for his consideration to even the best coverage particulars.
He then went deeper into the weeds.
Cohen confused Purchase American and Purchase America solely apply to authorities procurement, and that they’re designed to focus on China and autocratic international locations, not Canada. He notes that Canada is the No. 1 buying and selling accomplice for 30 U.S. states. “That doesn’t sound or really feel like a protectionist strategy or perspective between the 2 international locations,” he stated.
Some admit protectionism is a two-way avenue.
Maryscott Greenwood, who heads the Canadian American Enterprise Council, famous that protectionism exists on either side of the border.
“It’s not a uniquely American phenomenon — and it’s not a very current phenomenon,” she stated in an interview. “It’s not extra President Biden than his predecessors. It’s type of a legislation of physics on the planet, and it’s one thing that now we have to navigate.”
Greenwood stated Canadians will know the place they stand in Washington, due to Cohen’s type.
“He’s slightly bit robust — I don’t see him as any form of a pushover,” Greenwood stated of Cohen. “He’s a severe advocate, I assume I’d say, for the viewpoint of the U.S. That’s good. That’s what you need in that place.”
Cohen at the least is placing within the work on the bottom. His Trump-appointed predecessor was criticized for spending much of her tenure in the U.S. instead of Lornado, the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Ottawa.
Craft left the function in 2019, and the submit languished for a 12 months and a half and not using a substitute. That stung a bit.
Cohen acknowledges the Canada-U.S. relationship “suffered” from not having a Senate-confirmed ambassadorial presence in Ottawa for therefore lengthy.
“I understood the phrases however I didn’t perceive the influence of what has occurred over the past 5 years,” he stated of the tensions created whereas Trump was in workplace. “These points had been magnified in Canada due to the closeness of the connection.”