A Conversation with Norm B. Coleman

Senator Norm B. Coleman, former Mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota in the U.S. spent three decades as a public servant before joining Hogan Lovells as of counsel in 2011. We continue our 'In Conversation' series with him below.

1. Despite dire predictions about how his election might affect investor confidence, the U.S. stock market is surging.  Still, global markets see Trump as an uncertainty. What does a Trump presidency mean for businesses across the globe?

There is no question that the U.S. stock market is feeling bullish. And for good reason. Investors are anticipating that the Trump Administration will carry out a robust package of corporate tax and regulatory reforms. Having Republican majorities in the House and Senate increases the likelihood of Congressional action on the Trump agenda—but is no guarantee, as the Senate majority (52-48) is not filibuster proof. I hope that the President-elect is successful in carrying out corporate tax reform, bringing America’s corporate tax rate in line with other major industrialized economies, which will incentivize repatriation of assets from overseas. Further, between health care, financial, environmental, and energy regulatory reform, the U.S. economy is poised for dramatic economic growth. Small businesses, where the majority of American jobs are created, will benefit the most.  An open question is whether the U.S. will finally deal with its spending problem. Dealing with the nation’s $20 trillion debt albatross is no longer optional. President –elect Trump has spoken about significant infrastructure spending and has not embraced the call for entitlement reform. However, the appointment of Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), one of the budget hawks in Congress, as the head of the Office of Management and Budget is a positive sign of a desire to get spending under control. If this occurs—if the U.S. restores sound fiscal and monetary policies—that will set the foundation for a healthier global economy. 


2. Mr. Trump made very few comments on Africa during his campaign. Is Africa simply not on his agenda?

What I would say is that Mr. Trump, as he acknowledged throughout the campaign, has only recently entered the political square.  His exposure to many public policy issues is, by definition, limited. That includes the African continent.  This is not to say that he won't be open to learning more or even being a friend.  What is foreseeable is that Africa will have the immediate attention of President Trump in regard to stopping the spread of Islamic extremism, including Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Al-Sharia and others. In addition, the Trump Administration may seek to challenge China’s growing influence in the region and compete for greater access for US based companies to Africa’s rich mineral wealth. 

At this point, however, it is too soon to know how much of a priority Africa will be for him and his administration. What is said on the campaign trail before taking office is not always the best indicator of future action. It is worth noting that very few observers expected President George W. Bush to become deeply invested in the AIDS and malaria epidemics rampaging through the continent during his presidency. Today, many observers point to the millions of lives saved and improved through the PEPFAR program as one of President Bush’s most lasting accomplishments. When I served in the Senate, I went with the then-Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist, current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a high- powered bi-partisan group of Senators to observe the AIDS crisis firsthand—and to recommend how to employ the PEPFAR investment. I know how deeply that impacted my own thinking about a problem that I had only read about and imagined before. It is difficult to predict how the President-elect’s own experiences in the Oval Office will shape his attitudes.  

3. How can Africa make sure that it is not forgotten?

There is something of a paradox to Africa’s development in the last decade or so in the sense that the average American does not pay very much attention to the successes we have seen. By contrast, the brief, but deadly wave of Ebola outbreaks that appeared on American soil in 2015 were major news events in the U.S. What we are seeing in terms of how the Trump transition is operating is that the President-elect clearly trusts a small, but growing number of advisers to help shape his cabinet appointments. At the top of that list is the Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is running the transition. Whoever becomes Secretary of State will obviously be a key player in the administration. African governments would do well to get to know senior White House and other administration officials. At the same time, governments should not underestimate the role that Congress will play in shaping U.S. policy towards Africa. The key committees of jurisdiction—Foreign Relations in the Senate and Foreign Affairs in the House—are the addresses on Capitol Hill for meaningful action that affects the continent.  


4. What is a Trump presidency likely to mean for aid and investment into Africa?

With respect to aid, the Secretary of State and Administrator of the U.S. Agency for international Development will have a great say over U.S. foreign assistance to Africa. Their agenda will become clearer when the President-elect sends his first budget to Congress in the spring of 2017. What does seem clear at this point is that the President-elect is committed to “America first.” That is, America’s relationship with the world must first and foremost be good for America. When you look at a major program like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which was established during the Bush Administration and was intended to tie foreign aid to good governance benchmarks in donor countries, that attitude may more broadly animate the principle behind U.S. foreign aid during the Trump Administration. With respect to investment, it’s important to remember that the President-elect is, at heart, a businessman. It will not be lost on him that the continent is home to seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. I hope that he recognizes the importance of ensuring that the U.S. has access to these markets. It is no accident that smart U.S. government investments in Africa through Power Africa have resulted in enormous commitments from the private sector.


5. What does a Trump presidency mean, if anything, for the African Growth and Opportunity Act and the Electrify Africa Act?

My view is that Congress, which was the driving force on American foreign policy towards Africa during the Obama Administration, will continue to lead.  President Obama was understandably consumed with other global crises, beginning with the great recession already underway when he took office.  There are a number of great champions of the African people in Congress today, including Senator Chris Coons, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Ed Royce, who is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Others like Senators Jim Inhofe, who hosts the annual Africa Dinner of the National Prayer Breakfast, and John Boozman have deep faith connections to African faith communities. Electrify Africa offers the truly exciting prospect of bringing electricity to tens of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa, where 70 percent of people lack electricity. Its realization will require the Trump Administration to bring the public and private sectors together towards achieving this noble endeavor. This would be an enormous leap forward for so many people who will be empowered to realizing their full potential. 


6. During the campaign, Trump voiced skepticism about the man-made contributions to climate change and has made clear his intentions to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. More recently, he has indicated that he may be open to the U.S. remaining in the landmark agreement. What does this mean for the global effort to reduce climate change and do you expect Africa to be particularly vulnerable as a result of this? 

It is true that Mr. Trump expressed doubts about the human component of climate change during the campaign, and it is possible that he will take an extraordinary step like withdrawing from the landmark agreement reached in Paris. Certainly his nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, is a conservative who has strongly opposed the Obama Administration’s regulatory agenda in combatting climate change.  For example, Mr. Trump’s jobs agenda includes reversing the Obama Administration’s regulations on the coal industry.  I’m not convinced that this equates to the U.S. formally withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, but it would not at all be surprising if the Trump Administration sought to renegotiate the terms or simply didn’t meet the targets.


7. Elections are scheduled to take place across various European countries (e.g. France, Italy) in 2017. Is the Trump victory indicative of a greater global movement towards economic nationalism?

Here there are conflicting data points. On the one hand, the stunning outcome of Brexit, followed by Mr. Trump’s elections, and now the popular rejection of constitutional reforms in Italy all point towards deep angst among wide swaths of the electorate in western democracies. The predictions of the “end of history” heard in the last decade of the 20th Century have faded, as globalization has lifted many boats, but notably sunk many others. I agree that there has been too much “lazy thinking in the past quarter of a century about globalization,” as one columnist for the Guardian has put it. It would be a mistake to assume the movement toward globalization will proceed unabated. The strains of economic nationalism reflected in the Trump victory and Brexit should not be seen as isolated events. Greater attention will have to be given to those who see themselves as being economically disadvantaged by globalization and free trade. Mass migration patterns, especially from war-torn regions, have also been deeply unsettling for many European nations, who rightly fear the consequences of their nations failing to properly handle the enormous impacts on society.  

On the other hand, observers have predicted the rise of the far right in Austria for years, for example, and that has failed to materialize. I do think that we are in an age of popular angst. People all over the world, who have access to more information and each other than ever before, want to see change.  And they are holding politicians accountable for failure. That is not necessarily a bad thing.  I do hope that the political center, which used to be a powerful force in the United States, reasserts itself. Public policy is much better when it develops through bipartisan consensus.

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