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 HatchTrump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese Trump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom MORE (R-Utah) said during the brief session.

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Hatch and the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse passes bill taking aim at anonymous shell companies Senate Democrats to force vote Wednesday to overturn IRS rules on SALT deduction cap Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Russian, Iranian accounts trying to interfere in 2020 | Zuckerberg on public relations blitz | Uncertainty over Huawei ban one month out 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 PortmanRural broadband in jeopardy unless Congress fixes taxing problem Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes 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) ManchinOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Senate Dems lose forced vote against EPA power plant rule Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever 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.