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Stalled Trade Deals Could Trip Up Commerce Nomination

Senate Republicans stood by their vow to block any Commerce secretary nominee over a trade policy dispute after President Barack Obama announced his pick Tuesday.

In a March letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), 44 Senate Republicans made clear that they would use all parliamentary levers available to block Obama’s Commerce nominee unless the president submits a trio of stalled trade agreements for Congressional approval and signs the accompanying implementation legislation.

On the heels of the nomination of former Edison International CEO John Bryson, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) leadership office confirmed that those conditions still apply.

The White House is refusing to submit agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea for Congressional approval unless Republicans agree to support job retraining programs for workers displaced by these free trade deals. Thus far, Republicans have declined to support the Obama administration’s request.

Some Republican Members are hinting they could oppose Bryson for other reasons as well. Sen. James Inhofe said he would work to defeat Bryson’s nomination because of his record on environmental issues.

“By selecting John Bryson to head the Department of Commerce, President Obama is clearly demonstrating that he has no intention of backing down from his job-killing agenda,” the Oklahoma Republican said in a statement. “He is a founder of a radical environmental organization and a member of a United Nations advisory group on climate change.”

Obama praised Bryson’s qualifications in a statement announcing his nomination Tuesday.

“I am pleased to nominate John Bryson to be our nation’s Secretary of Commerce, as he understands what it takes for America to succeed in a 21st century global economy,” the president said. “John will be an important part of my economic team, working with the business community, fostering growth, and helping open up new markets abroad to promote jobs and opportunities here at home.”