President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE's top trade official has declined to testify before a key House panel about the administration's efforts to include controversial language protecting internet platforms from legal liability in trade agreements, according to a committee spokesperson.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerBob LighthizerBiden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Whiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' MORE declined an invitation to speak before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the administration's decision to include protections for Silicon Valley in trade pacts like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and a recently signed deal with Japan.
“As we explore whether consumers are adequately protected by platforms' content moderation practices and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, it’s extremely disappointing that Ambassador Lighthizer would refuse to testify before our Committee on the inclusion of similar language in trade agreements," a committee spokesman said in a statement to The Hill.
"This hearing would have been an opportunity for him to explain to the Committee members how including this type of language in trade agreements benefits Americans in light of consumers’ growing concerns about the health of the internet," the spokesman added. "The Chairman will continue to push this issue with Lighthizer.”
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lawmakers in both chambers have started to explore whether they should alter tech's legal shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a statute that protects social media platforms from being sued over what its users post and how it moderates user-generated content.
Amid a larger "techlash," Democrats and Republicans alike have hammered the companies over their Section 230 protections, calling the provision a "sweetheart deal" that allows them to escape any liability.
The Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing later this month that could kick off a concerted congressional effort to look into how the 1996 law could be changed.
The Trump administration has included language similar to Section 230 in trade agreements, potentially protecting companies like Facebook and Google from harsher regulatory environments in other countries.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) on Monday issued a statement asking Lighthizer to appear before the panel.
“As provisions similar to Section 230 are included in trade agreements, it’s important for the Committee to hear directly from Ambassador Lighthizer about how these provisions may affect the ability of the United States and our trading partners to enforce existing laws or write new ones,” Pallone said.
Pallone and the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world MORE (Ore.), have been raising the issue with USTR since the summer, when they pressed Lightizer to keep any Section 230-like language out of future trade agreements.
Though the language included in recent trade deals has some key differences from the existing federal statute, Pallone and Walden called it "inappropriate for the United States to export language mirroring Section 230 while such serious policy discussions are ongoing."
Lighthizer at a hearing over the summer disputed that characterization and insisted he "didn't write 230. The Congress did."
Harper Neidig contributed.