US Chamber urges quick vote on USTR nominee Lighthizer

US Chamber urges quick vote on USTR nominee Lighthizer
© Greg Nash

The nation’s largest business lobby on Wednesday threw its support behind President Trump’s pick to lead U.S. trade policy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee urging panel leaders to quickly approve the nomination of Robert Lighthizer to become the next U.S. trade representative as Democratic and Republican lawmakers grapple over a way forward. 

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“As members of the Senate Finance Committee know, international trade is essential to America’s prosperity, and it is imperative that we do more to open foreign markets to American-made manufactured goods, agricultural products and services,” said Myron Brilliant, the Chamber’s executive vice president and head of international affairs, in the letter to committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Utah governor calls Bannon a 'bigot' after attacks on Romney MORE (R-Utah) and ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Lobbying world MORE (D-Ore.).

“Properly negotiated trade agreements play an essential role in this regard,” Brilliant said. 

“However, these agreements are not worth the paper they are written on if they aren’t enforced," he said.

Lighthizer testified on March 14 before the Finance Committee, but his nomination is in a holding pattern while panel Democrats insist that he needs a waiver for confirmation and that such a waiver should be attached to legislation providing health and pension benefits for coal miners.

"There have been useful discussions about a path forward on Mr. Lighthizer and the miners legislation, and we are hopeful that we can develop a bipartisan approach to address both the nomination/waiver and mineworkers benefits," a Democratic aide told The Hill on Wednesday. 

Hatch has said he doesn't think Lighthizer needs a waiver for trade work he did for foreign governments in the 1980s and 1990s. He also doesn't think the unrelated miners legislation should be linked to Lighthizer's confirmation.

"These same members are refusing to approve a waiver unless the committee also moves a piece of legislation that is entirely unrelated to Mr. Lighthizer or the Office of USTR," Hatch said last week. 

"This kind of legislative hostage-taking certainly is not unheard of in the Senate, but in the context of consideration of a nominee for the Office of U.S. Trade Representative, it is totally unprecedented."

Lighthizer seems to otherwise have enough support to clear the committee if panel members can reach an agreement on how to proceed.

Several Finance Committee members along with the Chamber have argued that Lighthizer is qualified for the job.

The Chamber said that the 69-year-old Washington trade lawyer has “led a distinguished career as a trade policy practitioner” and “has a reputation as a staunch advocate for American industry.”

"The Chamber believes he will represent the nation’s interests well as he works with international partners and addresses trade challenges at the negotiating table and before the World Trade Organization."