Senate Republicans mount opposition to Commerce nominee

The memo says the Commerce Department "needs an economic leader, not an environmental activist." 

"Mr. Bryson is not the right person for this job," the memo says. "America needs a Commerce Secretary who is more focused on free trade -- not cap and trade -- especially with our current economic challenges," it says. 

The memo cited Bryson's founding of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and moderate support of cap-and-trade legislation pursued by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyMarkey challenges Democratic Senate campaign opponents to climate change debate Kennedy launches primary challenge against Markey Markey fundraises ahead of Kennedy primary challenge MORE (D-Mass.) three years ago as reasons to oppose the nomination. 

"The president should nominate a pro-growth business leader who will help the department fulfill its mission of making American businesses more innovative at home and more competitive abroad."

President Obama’s nomination of Bryson last week triggered quick reactions with Senate Republicans making clear their intent to block any replacement for Gary Locke, whom Obama nominated to be ambassador to China, until the White House submits three pending free-trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama for congressional approval.

White House press secretary Jay Carney responded that Obama supports the proposed trade deals, and said it would be “folly” to hold up the nomination to fill a critical economic post.

By nominating Bryson, a former CEO with extensive ties to corporate America, Obama continued his aggressive courtship of the business community, which began almost immediately after Democrats lost their House majority last year.

The fight over trade represents the first hurdle for Bryson’s nomination. 

The administration supports all three deals, but has refused to send them to Congress until Republicans agree to extend the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides healthcare and economic assistance to workers who lose their jobs because of increased trade. 

Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have called for the approval of the trade agreements as well as the assistance program and other trade preferences to be approved.

Senate Republicans renewed that fight on Tuesday, saying they want the trade deals and TAA to be handled separately also want the Obama administration to Trade Promotion Authority.