WOODLEY PARK — Rep. Chris Collins, an opponent of free trade, an early supporter of Donald Trump's candidacy, and a former customer of the Export-Import Bank, told a behind-the-scenes story of his lobbying Trump to ramp the agency back up to full strength.
"On February 16, in the Roosevelt Room," Collins said at Ex-Im's annual conference here in Northwest D.C., "the President of the United States—I was directly to his left, [Rep.] Mike Kelly was directly to his right—the two of us tag-teamed the President. We asked him very directly about the five board seats."
Because Ex-Im's board lacks a quorum, it cannot approve subsidy deals larger than $10 million.
Collins continued about that February 16 meeting: "The President looked to his right and to his left, and said 'can you get me some names? I'm all in.' There was no hesitation whatsoever. While we are somewhat frustrated we don't have them yet. Mike and I worked together. We submitted a group of names that afternoon to the President."
Rep. Mike Kelly was on stage with Collins at the conference Thursday. Kelly added some detail: "He kind of looked at both of us and said, 'yeah.' And then he looked down at the end of the table to—I believe it's his son-in-law—and said, 'hey, let's get movin on this.'"
Trump, on the campaign trail, said he opposed Ex-Im because its financing of exports is something properly left to the private sector. He hasn't publicly spoken on the issue since the election. But Collins insists that restoring Ex-Im's board and thus its ability to issue mega-deals "is very high on the agenda" in the White House.
Collins also says the Senate would confirm Trump's nominations to Ex-Im's board. Collins says the board would have a quorum now, except for the dilatory tactics of "a single senator. A single senator stopped it."
Collins did not name him, but he was talking about former Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, an opponent of Ex-Im. "That did not serve America well," Collins said. "Thank God he's gone—from that position."
Collins said "there's no question" new Banking Committee chairman Mike Crapo will advance Ex-Im board nominations.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's commentary editor, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Tuesday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.