WASHINGTON—The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday delayed a scheduled vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative due to the lack of a quorum among committee members.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, the committee’s chairman, said he hoped the nomination of Robert Lighthizer for the administration’s top trade negotiating job could be taken up after Congress’ two-week Easter break ends on April 24.
Senate confirmation of Lighthizer’s nomination has been delayed partly by demands from Democrats that the Finance Committee first advance a bill aimed at protecting retired coal miners’ pensions and health care benefits. Only one Democrat, Senator Ron Wyden, showed up for the start of the panel’s meeting on Thursday.
Also contributing to delays were questions over whether Lighthizer, a veteran trade lawyer and Reagan-era deputy USTR, needs a congressional waiver from a 1995 law prohibiting USTR candidates from working on behalf of foreign governments.
After leaving USTR but well before that law was passed, Lighthizer did some work for Brazil’s agriculture department in the late 1980s and assisted a law firm colleague who was advising a Chinese electronics industry group in the early 1990s.
Lighthizer has strong support from both parties because of his pledges to strengthen enforcement of U.S. trade laws to stop unfairly dumped and subsidized imports, but the waiver issue has become a leverage point for Democrats on the miners’ pension bill.
That measure seeks to transfer certain pension obligations to the federal government and provide funding to prevent some 22,800 retired coal miners from losing healthcare benefits at the end of April.
Wyden said Democrats’ concerns needed to be addressed, but he was “confident that we can find a way to have a positive, strongly bipartisan markup of Mr. Lighthizer.”