Republicans Vow to Block Obama’s Pick for Commerce Secretary

May 31, 2011 2:53pm

ABC News' Sunlen Miller (@SunlenMiller) and Ann Compton (@AnnCompton) report:  President Obama formally nominated John Bryson for Commerce Secretary today saying that he is confident that Bryson will deliver the "growth, prosperity and job creation here in American that we all want."

But Mr. Bryson has to go though Senate confirmation. And Republicans have vowed to hold up any confirmation for the new Commerce Secretary until the president submits the trade agreements for Panama, Colombia and South Korea to Congress for approval and commits to signing them.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in March, 44 Republicans said that further delay on the three trade agreements would be unnecessary and inexcusable.

"The administration has delayed sending up legislation for free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. These agreements were negotiated and finalized more than three years ago," the letter stated, "until the President submits both agreements to Congress for approval and commits to signing implementing legislation into law, we will use all the tools at our disposal to force action, including withholding support for any nominee for Commerce Secretary and any trade-related nominees."

The White House will not send up the free trade agreement treaties until Congress approves more retraining money for a jobs program for laid-off workers, they have said.

In the State Dining Room today, with outgoing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who is nominated to be U.S. Ambassador to China, and Bryson by his side, the president said that Bryson will be able to use his business community experience in his new role.

Bryson is former chairman, CEO, and president of Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison, which provides energy for much of Southern California. In 1970, he was one of two co-founders of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

He has also served as a director of The Boeing Company since 1995, a trustee of the California Institute of Technology, a director of the W.M. Keck Foundation and the California Endowment, and was a director of Western Asset Income Fund from 1986 to 2006. He is a non-executive chairman of the board of BrightSource Energy, Inc. and of the board of overseers of Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

"As Commerce Secretary, John is going to be an important part of my economic team, promoting American business and American products across the globe," Mr. Obama said. "By working with companies here at home, and representing America's interests abroad, I'm confident that he's going to help us meet the goal that I set of doubling our nation's exports."

And the president joked that nothing, perhaps, has prepared Bryson more for his new role than fatherhood.

"Nothing has prepared him more for this demanding role – a role that requires delicate diplomacy, complex negotiations, and careful management of folks with strong views – than being the father of four daughters."

-Sunlen Miller

UPDATE: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said it would be a “folly” for Republicans to hold up Bryson's nomination.

“We think that it would be folly to hold up a nomination so important as the commerce secretary, for any reason. And we look forward to Senate confirmation.”

Carney said the administration is working with Congress to pass the trade agreements.

“The president obviously has done a lot of work to ensure that these three trade agreements have been
 put together and come to pass," he said. "There are still technical discussions going on with the administration that always precede bringing them up in a Congress."

The White House is also planning to go public with its own counter-threat: US Trade Representative Ron Kirk tells ABC News the trade deals will not be submitted until Congress agrees to restore billions in job retraining money for workers who lose jobs to overseas competition.

“I hope the Senate is not going to play politics with something as critical to our ability to put America back to work as our ability to support our exporters and manufacturers,“ Kirk said in an interview in his office across the street from the White House complex.  

“Collectively, [the three trade agreements] can help us add or support 70,000 jobs and add $12 billion to our GDP at a time when we need it. But we think it is also important we keep faith with America’s workers.”   Kirk claims the money needed for retraining “is not a budge buster,” only about $6 billion over ten years. 

“We want to make sure those workers have a chance to get retraining, retooled so they can get back in the workforce and support their families," he said. 

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