WASHINGTON, April 6, 2017 – The schedule for a Senate Finance Committee vote needed to advance the nomination of Robert Lighthizer to be the next U.S. Trade Representative remains uncertain after a delay was announced today.
Chairman Orrin Hatch said the committee did not have the necessary quorum of lawmakers for a scheduled vote today. He said a vote will not likely happen until the Senate comes back from its two-week Easter recess that begins this weekend..
Beyond the lack of a quorum, Republican and Democratic panel members agreed that several issues that Democrats have attached to the Lighthizer nomination remain unresolved.
Democrats continue to insist that a Senate waiver for Lighthizer is needed before he can be the next USTR because of his previous work for foreign governments. . Furthermore, some Democrats are also insisting that the nomination be tied to legislation to fund the pensions and health care accounts for thousands of out-of-work miners.
“Part of the reason they (Republicanss) scheduled this vote was to manufacture a deadline to get those negotiations done and they didn’t get there,” said a Hill source.
But a deal may be close, judging by the cordial interaction between Hatch and Sen. Ron Wyden, the committee's top Democrat..
“I want to thank you for continuing to work with us to address our concerns and the priorities of the Democrats on this side of the dais,” Wyden said to Hatch at one point.
Hatch responded: “I thank you for your efforts. It’s been a pleasure to work with you and I look forward to working with you in the future.”
Republicans made it clear to reporters, though, that they did not want to see a waiver for Lighthizer debated on the Senate floor together with Lighthizer’s nomination.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., a panel member who also chairs the Agriculture Committee, said he expects the Democrats will get their way on a floor debate over the waiver, and he's not happy about it.
“We know (Democrats) want a ruckus on that, but it’s terribly counterproductive,” Roberts said. “I think that’s an obvious indication that they want to highlight that and I know of no other reason than to be political.”
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters he hoped the waiver could be included in a short-term spending bill that Congress is expected to take up after the Easter recess, but Wyden said he could not abide by that.
“The waiver needs to be part of Mr. Lighthizer’s nomination going forward,” Wyden stressed. “When his nomination goes forward, he needs a waiver because the law requires it.”
Perhaps even more vexing to those who want Lighthizer approved quickly is the fact that some Democrats have tied it to passage of the Miners Protection Act of 2017 (S. 175).
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and 12 other Democrats – several of whom are on the Finance Committee -- signed onto a letter to Hatch in February demanding the Miners legislation be attached to the Lighthizer waiver and that demand remains a priority for those lawmakers.
“A lot is going to depend on what kind of agreement we can get,” said Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., a committee member who signed the February letter. “There’s been a lot of discussion about what might happen with regards to the Miners Pension Act and I haven’t seen a proposal that would allow us to move forward … The resolution of that will obviously impact Lighthizer.”