Rep. Kevin Brady (center) has made trade central to his career. The issue is back on the map with three trade bills moving to the floor.
In a political age that rewards "red meat" on cable television, talk radio and Internet echo chambers, Rep. Kevin Brady is following another model.
Since Texas voters first sent the Republican to Congress in 1996, he's built expertise on a specialized issue — trade — working diligently behind the scenes to sell free trade to fellow lawmakers, administration officials and the public.
"There's an awful lot being written about how Washington can't work. And Kevin Brady is a real story of Washington at work, and he makes it work," said Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank and former U.S. trade representative during the administration of President George W. Bush.
With three key free-trade agreements teed up for action this week, Brady's keystone issue is on display. Last week, President Barack Obama sent trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama to Capitol Hill. It has been a years-long process, dating back to the Bush administration, which first negotiated and signed the deals.
"It's hard to imagine these free-trade agreements moving forward without his leadership in the House," said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who worked alongside Brady for 14 years in the House.
Brady, from his position as chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, has a reputation for how ceaselessly he pushes free trade.
"I love trade. I love trade. First, it's economic freedom. It's the freedom to buy, sell and compete with as little government interference as possible," Brady said in an interview from his office in the Cannon House Office Building. "Secondly, it's a jobs issue."
Brady's sunny disposition and sense of fairness are important to his success at reaching across the aisle for support, something crucial for effectiveness on building bipartisan coalitions on trade.
"He's conservative as hell. But the politics aside, he's a very nice guy. And the politics doesn't get in the way of your being a friend with him. I have nothing but good things to say about Kevin," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), the subcommittee ranking member.
The two make an unlikely pair, given how many political differences they have. But Brady and McDermott will travel together to a trade summit in Hawaii next month to represent Congress. "His word is good. That's the highest compliment I pay anybody," McDermott said.
In tense negotiations, Brady often breaks the ice with humor, including his impression of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.
"When others give up on something — it's kind of why he goes to that Vince Lombardi [impression] — he never gives up," House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said. "He has the vision to figure out how to get to the end, how to solve the problem, when others get clouded by obstacles."
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