- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

Sen. Charles E. Schumer yesterday said he would hold up President Bush’s pick as the next U.S. trade ambassador until the nominee provides detailed answers on the administration’s efforts to open China’s market.

A Senate vote on the nomination of Susan Schwab as U.S. trade representative had been expected as early as Thursday evening. But the New York Democrat said he would delay the vote until Ms. Schwab answers several detailed questions.

“I know that most senators support your nomination, and it is very possible that I will as well. I simply believe that this is a very critical time for U.S. trade relations, and I felt that your responses to several of my questions at your nomination hearing, particularly as they related to China and financial services, were unnecessarily evasive and unhelpful,” Mr. Schumer said.

U.S. financial service firms face multiple restrictions on investments and operations in China, including “onerous ownership requirements … limitations on the scope of business, the inability to trade in derivative markets, and uneven [regulatory procedures],” Mr. Schumer said in a letter co-signed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

The lawmakers said that the administration has not been effective in prodding China on other issues and did not want to see financial services follow the same path.

Mr. Graham’s office acknowledged that he wanted more information from Ms. Schwab, but said he would not delay the Senate vote.

“The sooner we act on this nomination the better,” Mr. Graham said.

Ms. Schwab was expected to be confirmed by a unanimous voice vote. A single senator, in this case Mr. Schumer, can derail that process.

The Senate Finance Committee Monday approved Ms. Schwab’s nomination 18-1. Mr. Schumer, who is on the committee, did not vote.

Mr. Bush tapped Ms. Schwab, currently deputy U.S. trade representative, to succeed Rob Portman as the administration’s top trade official. The Senate yesterday confirmed Mr. Portman to head the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

The transition, and the delay of Ms. Schwab’s nomination, come as the trade office faces an array of challenges, including deadlock at World Trade Organization talks, a rising trade deficit — especially with China — and declining support for the administration’s free trade agenda.

“We need Ambassador Schwab out there representing us in her full capacity as the president’s trade representative. There’s no reason to play games with her nomination,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Finance Committee.

The Senate is not in session next week, making quick confirmation unlikely.

Steve Norton, spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, said the office would respond to the senators’ letter.

“We are disappointed [with the delay]. Ambassador Schwab has very broad bipartisan support in the Senate. We hope she will be confirmed as quickly as possible,” Mr. Norton said.

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