Lighthizer unanimously approved by Senate panel

Lighthizer unanimously approved by Senate panel
© Greg Nash

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved Robert Lighthizer’s nomination to become the next U.S. trade representative as part of a bipartisan agreement to consider coal miners' benefits legislation.

The panel voted 26-0 to send Lighthizer’s long-delayed nomination to the Senate floor while also approving a congressional waiver on the same vote, after months in a holding pattern.

"I’m glad to see this matter is no longer standing in the way of the USTR nomination," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLighthizer to testify before Senate next week as trade war ramps up Senators introduce bipartisan bill to improve IRS Senate panel advances Trump IRS nominee MORE (R-Utah) said during the brief session.

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Hatch and the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight House passes measure blocking IRS from revoking churches' tax-exempt status over political activity Senators introduce bipartisan bill to improve IRS MORE (Ore.) reached a deal on Monday that paved the way for expiring coal miners' benefits legislation Democrats had insisted be moved along with the Lighthizer nomination.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP to White House: End summit mystery US to provide additional 0M in defensive aid to Ukraine Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit MORE (R-Ohio) was one of several senators from both sides of the aisle to underscore the urgency of both approving Lighthizer's nomination as well as moving forward on the coal miners legislation before the benefits expire for more than 22,000 retired workers at the end of April.

Democrats insisted on the waiver for Lighthizer and urged Hatch to move the coal miners bill before the end of the month.

Wyden said that the mine workers measure should be added to a continuing resolution that Congress must pass before the end of the week to avoid a government shutdown.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains Pollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes Overnight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices MORE (D-W.Va.) who has led the charge on the coal miners legislation, thanked the committee for agreeing to consider the bill, which had previously been easily approved by the panel last year.

Manchin said he doesn’t oppose Lighthizer but noted the importance of the government keeping its promise to provide permanent benefits for retired miners.

“The is going to be something we can resolve and everyone will walk away happy,” he told the committee.

Hatch has expressed frustration with Democrats' demand that the coal miners bill be attached to a waiver for Lighthizer.

Despite the bipartisan agreement, Hatch reiterated that he doesn’t believe Lighthizer needs a wavier for his trade work with foreign governments in the 1980s and 1990s.

“It’s not clear that this waiver is legally necessary,” Hatch said.

“However, this is not the first time the committee or the Senate has worked constructively to pass a waiver, even when there was not a consensus agreement on the need for the waiver,” Hatch said.

Hatch and Wyden each said that while they expect to get Lighthizer into place soon, there are still a slew of open trade jobs that need filling, including three deputy trade representatives and chief agriculture and intellectual property negotiators.