Hatch calls for vote on USTR nominee Lighthizer

Hatch calls for vote on USTR nominee Lighthizer
© Greg Nash

A top Senate Republican is planning to move forward with a committee vote on President Trump’s nominee to head the nation’s trade office despite an ongoing feud with Democrats over the process. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDACA remains in place, but Dreamers still in limbo Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) said Tuesday that the panel will vote Thursday on the nomination of Robert Lighthizer to serve as the U.S. trade representative (USTR).  

But the nomination is being held up over Democrats' insistence that a congressional waiver for Lighthizer be tied to legislation providing retirement and healthcare benefits to coal miners.

"Mr. Lighthizer’s nomination has been subject to unprecedented delay and unrelated demands for far too long, and we cannot afford to have this crucial position void of leadership any longer,” Hatch said in a statement.

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“Throughout his confirmation hearing he demonstrated a clear vision and dedication to advancing a strong trade agenda, which many of my Democratic colleagues praised,” he said.

"It is my hope my Democratic colleagues remove their unrelated demands and work with us to advance his nomination through the committee for full Senate consideration."

Senate Finance ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Democrats, voting rights groups pressure Senate to approve mail-in voting resources Overnight Health Care: Supreme Court strikes down Louisiana abortion law | Governors rethink opening bars, restaurants amid COVID-19 spike | WHO director warns pandemic 'speeding up' MORE (D-Ore.) is having "constructive" talks with Hatch on how to advance Lighthizer along with a waiver while helping the miners, a Democratic aide said.

The committee can vote without a waiver, but based on what is finally decided a waiver might be necessary for a floor vote.

Without Lighthizer in place, Democrats and Republicans do agree that it will be difficult to start the consultation process between Congress and the White House on the Trump administration's trade agenda. 

Although Hatch has said he doesn’t believe a waiver is needed, he has expressed a willingness to work with Democrats as long as the waiver is moved separately from the coal miners bill.

Hatch has called the tactic of linking unrelated legislation to a waiver an "unprecedented" tactic.

For their part, Democrats insist Lighthizer needs a congressional waiver to take the helm of the office of the USTR because he represented foreign governments in trade negotiations in the 1980s and 1990s.

Congress passed a four-month extension of miners’ health benefits in December, so Democrats are looking for a way to move the legislation that would make coal miners’ pension funds solvent and would permanently extend health benefits to retired miners.

Even as the two parties try to iron out their differences, the plan to vote could be derailed by the Senate’s attempt to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, this week before the two-week spring recess.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights Manchin draws line against repealing legislative filibuster Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats MORE (R-Ky.) is expected to file cloture — or end to debate on Gorsuch's nomination — on Tuesday, which will set up a showdown on Thursday with Democrats over his confirmation. 

McConnell told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he doesn't expect cloture to be invoked but would still move to confirm Gorsuch on Friday.