Republican Sens. John McCain and Ben Sasse announced Wednesday that they will not support President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. trade representative, Robert Lightizer, putting his confirmation in serious jeopardy.
McCain, R-Ariz., and Sasse, R-Neb., said it was Lightizer’s opposition to NAFTA that led to their position. Trump promised in late April to renegotiate NAFTA after threatening to tear up the trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada.
“Unfortunately, your confirmation process has failed to reassure us that you understands the North American Free Trade Agreement’s positive economic benefits to our respective states and the nation as a whole,” McCain and Sasse wrote in a joint statement. “You also have made your skepticism of NAFTA well known, which we find to be alarming. America deserves a USTR who will renegotiate NAFTA in order to build on its successes, not as a pretext for unraveling it.”
During his confirmation hearing, Lightizer, an international trade lawyer who worked as the deputy trade representative in the Reagan administration, said that he agreed with Trump’s “America First trade policy.”
“We can do better in negotiating our trade agreements and stronger in enforcing our trade laws,” he said.
The Senate Finance Committee approved his nomination in April and passed a waiver allowing Lightizer, who has worked for Brazil and a Chinese electronics group, to serve in the post. A 1995 law prohibits people who have worked on behalf of foreign governments from being the U.S. trade representative.
The senators also criticized the Trump administration’s trade message.
“Beyond your vocal advocacy for protectionist shifts in our trade policies, the Administration’s ongoing, incoherent, and inconsistent trade message has compounded our concern,” they wrote.
Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate, meaning if no Democrats support the nomination, Lightizer could not afford any more Republican defections.
The U.S. trade representative negotiates with foreign governments on trade agreements. Stephen Vaughn is the acting trade representative.