WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate Finance Committee delayed a scheduled vote on President Donald Trump‘s candidate for the U.S. Trade Representative on Thursday due to a lack of a quorum among committee members.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the committee, said he hoped Robert Lighthizer’s nomination for the administration’s top trade bargaining position could be taken over after Congress’s two-week Easter vacation ends on April 24.
Senate confirmation of Lighthizer’s nomination has been delayed in part by demands by Democrats that the Finance Committee first advance a bill aimed at protecting the pensions and health care benefits of retired coal miners. Only one Democrat, Senator Ron Wyden, appeared at the start of the panel meeting Thursday.
Also contributing to the delays were questions about whether Lighthizer, a veteran business attorney and USTR deputy from the Reagan era, needs a congressional waiver of a 1995 law prohibiting USTR candidates from working on behalf of foreign governments.
After leaving the USTR, but long before the law was passed, Lighthizer worked for Brazil’s department of agriculture in the late 1980s and assisted a colleague at a law firm advising an industry group. Chinese electronics in the early 1990s.
Lighthizer has strong support from both parties due to its promises to strengthen enforcement of US trade laws to stop subsidized and dumped imports, but the exemption issue has become a point of influence. for Democrats on the miners’ pension bill.
That move seeks to transfer certain pension obligations to the federal government and provide funding to prevent some 22,800 retired coal miners from losing their health care benefits by the end of April.
Wyden said the Democrats’ concerns need to be addressed, but he is “confident that we can find a way to achieve a strong bipartisan and positive mark from Mr. Lighthizer.”
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