Well, that was quick: Ambassador to Canada hearing

David Jacobson: wife speaks French and son may be enrolling at McGill

Well, that was quick: Ambassador to Canada hearingDavid Jacobson’s Senate confirmation hearing this morning lasted about 19 minutes by my watch. A Chicago lawyer (specialties included trade, e-commerce, energy, intellectual property) and a prolific Obama fundraiser, he sounded very enthusiastic about becoming ambassador to Canada and knowledgeable, or at least well briefed, on the issues. He noted in his remarks that he has been working in the White House since January, (helping fill jobs in the executive branch). “During that time, I have developed an understanding of how this administration works as well as strong relationships with decision-makers in the White House and across our government,” he said.

I spoke with him briefly afterward. He’s in a hurry to get to Ottawa as soon as he gets confirmed, he said. His family is looking forward to it too. He told me his wife speaks French and his son may be enrolling at McGill.

He’s not supposed to do substantive media interviews until after he is confirmed by the Senate, so he wouldn’t say much more than that. He seemed a bit nervous and made the gaffe of referring to the Secretary of State as “Senator” Clinton. But it really didn’t matter since there was only one senator on the panel to hear him.

Below is his statement and Q & A with Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware. Highlights were his praise for Canada’s role in Afghanistan, and his suggestion that the US could learn from Canada’s more conservative banking practices.

Jacobson: I would, Senator. First of all, if I can introduce my wife, Julie, who, without her love and her support for the last 22 years, I would not be sitting here, without question. And one of the great joys of the opportunity that will present myself, if I’m confirmed by the Senate, is to be able to partner with her in this process. I hope I’ll be a good ambassador. I am sure she will be a great ambassador’s wife.

Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before you today. It is, for me a particular honor, not just to be before this committee but to have you chairing this committee. It really is a thrill and something that I will always remember.

I’m grateful to learn about your areas of interest, to answer your questions as best I can and to seek your support for my nomination.

I also want to thank Senator Durbin for introducing me here today. He has set the example to me on the role of a public servant. I am honored to have known him, and I hope I am going to be able to live up to his standard of service to the American people.

As the senator indicated, my two children, Wynn (ph) and Jeremy, couldn’t be here today. They are working for the summer. And I think they’re watching back at home. And I know they’re rooting for me from afar.

I’m also pleased to have so many friends here and so many colleagues from the White House, who are supporting me in my testimony here today.

Mr. Chairman, I’m grateful to the president of the United States for nominating me to be the ambassador to Canada and for sending my name to the Senate for consideration. I’m also grateful for the support of Senator Clinton.

As I sit here today, I can’t help but think back to a family vacation I took about 50 years ago when I was 7-years old. We were going to leave the country for the first time in my life. My parents, my two sisters and I packed up our blue Buick to drive from Chicago to Niagara Falls. Our route took us to Detroit, and we drove over, ironically, the Ambassador Bridge. And despite my mother’s protestations that he would get us all killed, my father stopped the car in the middle of the bridge at the border. And I will never forget my parents reaching from the front seat back into the back, from Canada into the United States, and my sisters and I reaching from the back seat across into Canada.

And Mr. Chairman, if someone had said to that 7-year old kid, sitting in the middle of the back seat between his two sisters on the Ambassador Bridge, that some day he would be appearing before this great committee as the nominee of the president of the United States to be ambassador to Canada, he would not have believed it.

Mr. Chairman, the depth and breadth of our relationship with Canada surpasses that with any other country. The United States and Canada have the largest trading relationship of any two countries in the history of the world. The energy trade between our countries exceeds that of any other nation pair.

Canada is a stalwart partner of the United States in defense and in international issues. Canada was a founding member of NATO and is our partner in NORAD. There are more than 2,800 Canadian troops fighting bravely in Afghanistan. Their service and their sacrifice should be honored and respected by all Americans.

We share core democratic values and a commitment to work on behalf of peace, prosperity and human rights around the world. However, even such a deep and complex friendship always needs to be nurtured and encouraged. The sheer size and magnitude of the U.S.- Canada relationship means that there will be occasional tensions involving economic, regulatory and environmental issues.

But Mr. Chairman, I believe the strength of the relationship between the United States and Canada is measured not by the absence of such friction, but by the ability to move forward while resolving to address areas of concern.

I believe my background and my experience would, if confirmed, help me in that endeavor.

As I have explained in more detail in the written statement, which I would like to submit for the record, I have been recognized as an effective advocate for my cause. I have spent a good part of my career learning about the substantive issues that form the core of our relationship with Canada. I have had an opportunity to develop management skills which would be key to executing my responsibilities as ambassador to Canada.

I’ve learned to try to view the world from the perspective of people sitting across the table from me, not necessarily to agree with their points of view but to seek common ground where it might exist. And since January 20th, I have had the honor of working in the White House as a special assistant to the president. During that time, I have developed an understanding of how this administration works as well as strong relationships with decision-makers in the White House and across our government.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to appear before you. It would be the honor of a lifetime to be able to represent my president and my country as the ambassador to Canada. And I look forward to answering your questions.

Senator Kaufman: Great. Thank you for an excellent statement. What are your priorities with regard to your new job and dealing with Canada?

Jacobson: Senator, I believe that there are three fundamental sets of issues that I will address if I am confirmed and go to Canada.

Number one, trade and commerce. As I indicated in my statement, we have the largest trading relationship in the history of the world. There are issues that arise from time to time. But I think that is going to be the first order of business.

The second is the combination of a pair of issues of energy and the environment. As we’ve discussed, Canada is our largest foreign supplier of oil. Indeed, the flow of energy back and forth between the United States and Canada is the largest of any two countries in the world. At the same time, there are environmental challenges on both sides of the border. And I believe that addressing those issues is going to be another major issue.

And the third, which, to some extent, relates to the other two, is the issue of how we deal with a 5,500-mile common border that we have. There has been concern, again, on both sides of the border with respect to this, and I think that the issue is, how do we strike the appropriate balance between, on the one hand, security and, on the other hand, efficiency? I believe that is a national security issue. It is an economic issue. And it’s an important issue for the convenience of our citizens.

And certainly, other issues are going to arise from time to time, but those are the three issues that I think are going to be key to my service if I’m confirmed.

Senator Kaufman: Can you tell me a little bit about what the effect of the global financial crisis has been on Canada?

Jacobson: I can, sir. Canada has an economy that is very much integrated with the United States. About 80-some percent of their exports come to the United States. And so when we have problems, they have problems. And Canada has suffered in the global economic downturn.

However, for two reasons, I think it’s fair to say, the difficulties that they have faced have been somewhat less, difficult as they may be, but somewhat less than those that we face here.

Their banking system was more conservative in their lending practices — something which perhaps we could learn from — and, as a consequence, has been about to weather the storm more effectively. And again, this is probably related, but their real estate sector has not been hit as badly as our real estate sector, in large measure because of the banking practices. They didn’t have some of the very aggressive lending practices that were commonplace in this country. And as a result of that, they have not suffered as much.

However, these are difficult economic times in Canada, and the fact that they’re not suffering as much as we are is perhaps faint consolation for the people who live there.

Senator Kaufman: Can you talk a little bit about the future of our relationship with Canada in Afghanistan?

Jacobson: Senator, I know your concern for the success of our mission in Afghanistan, and I share that concern. And I believe, while I didn’t mention it as one of the most important issues, I perhaps would add this as a fourth. I think that any discussion of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan has to start with their amazing commitment today.

Today, there are about 2,800 Canadian soldiers fighting in southern Afghanistan in the Kandahar region. More than 125 Canadians have sacrificed their lives in that endeavor. Their service and their sacrifice should be honored by all Americans.

Prime Minister Harper, at some significant domestic political cost, was able to extend the combat mission in Canada through 2011. They have also committed about $1.5 billion over a 10-year period toward reconstruction or, perhaps more accurately, construction in Afghanistan. So they are making a very significant commitment.

And one of the important things that I am going to need to do, if I am confirmed and go to Canada, is, over the next two years as events unfold on the ground in Afghanistan, and hopefully unfold in a positive way, work with my Canadian counterparts in how we can best work together to achieve our common goals in this exercise.

Senator Kaufman: Great. Listen, I want to thank you for a great statement, great answers to my questions.

I’ll keep the record open until noon tomorrow, Thursday, August 6th. Hopefully we can get this through the Foreign Relations Committee and to the floor and get you up to Canada as soon as possible.

Again, the hearing is adjourned.

Jacobson: Thank you, sir.