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Take Five: Bill Hagerty

‘It makes you a better American when you live overseas,’ Tennessee senator says

Tennessee Sen. Bill Hagerty served as U.S. ambassador to Japan under President Donald Trump.
Tennessee Sen. Bill Hagerty served as U.S. ambassador to Japan under President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Bill Hagerty has a Bible on his desk, sitting next to a bottle of Jack Daniels Single Barrel signed by the master distiller.

Add some M&Ms (made in Tennessee), and his office is nearly complete. Hagerty is six months into his new job, which he landed with former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. 

The Republican senator talked with CQ Roll Call about how it’s going, along with a few other topics: Japan, his great-grandfather, Japan, helping Nashville recruit a Major League Soccer team, and Japan. (Hagerty used to be the U.S. ambassador to — you guessed it — Japan.)

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: This is your first elected office. What has surprised you so far?

A: When I was serving as ambassador to Japan, I spent more than half my time on national security and defense-related issues. We have more U.S. military stationed there than any other place in the world. If you think about where I was — it’s a very tough neighborhood. North Korea, Russia and China are right there at your doorstep. 

But I also saw what was happening here in America. I was very concerned about a push toward socialism. Since I arrived here in Congress, I realized we’re being challenged like never before, both on an international basis and on a domestic front. The gravity is even greater than I expected.

Q: What do you miss most about living in Japan?

A: Well, the food would be one thing. We have good sushi in Nashville, I wouldn’t want to slight any of the great restaurants there. But in Tokyo, there are more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else. If you look at the greater metropolitan area, it has roughly 39 million people. So not surprisingly, you have the largest number of restaurants in the world — but you also have the largest number per capita. The average Japanese person doesn’t have a large kitchen.

The culture is so different from our own. I’ve said this for a long time, but it makes you a better American when you have the opportunity to live overseas. You appreciate the uniqueness of America and the hunger for a strong America. There’s a great appetite for American leadership in the world.

Q: Your name is William Francis Hagerty IV. What can you tell me about the first William Francis Hagerty?

A: He died when my grandfather was 5, so I know very little about him. That’s the first generation I’m aware of in America. I know he worked road construction, sewer work — this is what Irish immigrants did. My grandfather, the same thing, he started working at a very early age. My father worked road construction, and I worked my way through college doing road construction. I was the first male in my family to have a college degree. 

Q: How do you go about landing a professional sports team, like you helped Nashville do a few years ago?

A: We’re a great entertainment sport state. We’ve got the Titans, and — this was one of the most impactful elements of my thought process — the Predators have done amazingly well. How unlikely, a hockey team in a Southern state like Tennessee.

I flew to New York and met with the leadership at Major League Soccer headquarters. They were very polite to me, but said, “Twelve cities are ahead of you in the process. Good luck.”

I viewed it as an economic development challenge. One of the unique things — and I think this really helped us — is that I asked the president of the Predators and the president of the Titans to be the major presenters when MLS came to visit. Their message was one I truly believed, that a rising tide was going to lift all ships. We weren’t there to compete against one another.

Q: When was the last time you cried?

A: Probably as we left Tokyo. My kids loved the experience. My youngest daughter, who was 10, tried to [renegotiate] the deal three times the day I told her we were going to be leaving. She had some very good reasons why we should stay a little longer. 

Quick hits

Last book read? “Tokyo Junkie,” written by a friend of mine, Bob Whiting. 

Can the ends justify the means? If I were speaking with my children, the answer’s no. But I’m new to this and I’m seeing how Washington works. Regretfully, sometimes uncomfortable things happen to get to the result.

Least popular opinion? That my sons should wear a collared shirt from time to time.

America’s best president? I’d have to start with the president who gave me the most interesting job I ever had — and that would be President Trump.

Closest friend across the aisle? When I was ambassador, Chris Coons came to see me. He and I actually co-authored an article in the largest newspaper in Japan. And I’ve gotten to know Mark Warner a bit — we have mutual friends. 

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