Democrats Help Trump Trade Nominee Lighthizer Clear Senate Panel

  • Robert Lighthizer may get Senate floor vote in about two weeks
  • Lighthizer needs waiver for his past work for China, Brazil

Robert Lighthizer, U.S. trade representative nominee, listens during a Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing in Washington on March 14, 2017.

Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

The Senate Finance Committee approved President Donald Trump’s choice to serve as the nation’s top trade negotiator in a bipartisan vote after Democrats had slowed the nomination over his past work for China.

The panel Tuesday unanimously approved Robert Lighthizer to become U.S. trade representative and backed a waiver for his lobbying work during the 1990s on behalf of a Chinese company. That work had been a prime sticking point between Republicans and Democrats over the nomination. Lighthizer also needed the exemption for work on behalf of Brazil in 1985 that required him to register as a foreign agent.

A vote on confirmation in the full Senate could come in as few as two weeks.

Lighthizer would be in charge of coordinating U.S. trade policy and resolving disagreements. Throughout his campaign and since taking office in January, Trump has pledged to take a harder line in trade deals that he contends have put the nation at a disadvantage against foreign competitors.

"President Trump has ambitious plans on U.S. trade policy,” said Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican. He said Lighthizer will be "the principal intermediary between Congress and the president on trade policy," meaning the quicker he’s installed, the more voice Congress will have on the issue.

Lighthizer is a lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and a Reagan-era deputy U.S. trade representative. During his Senate vetting, Lighthizer said China is high on the list of U.S. trade difficulties and that the most pressing U.S.-Canada trade issue is the softwood lumber dispute. The Trump administration on Monday announced it imposed tariffs of up to 24 percent on imported softwood lumber from Canada.

Lighthizer plans to recuse himself for two years on decisions involving former clients at his law firm including his biggest client, U.S. Steel Corp. He has said his past work for industry groups associated with the Brazilian and Chinese governments doesn’t violate the prohibition against foreign lobbying.

Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the panel, said there is bipartisan support for Lighthizer’s nomination and the waiver, which Democrats resisted until securing a pledge from Republicans to support extending health benefits for miners in a spending bill being negotiated.

"The global economy is increasingly competitive and not all the competition is playing by the rules,” Wyden said, citing subsidies he said are hurting timber workers. "The next U.S. trade representative has to be a crusader for high-wage, high-skilled jobs and economic development.”

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE