WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, a critical position ahead of renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, passed a key procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate on Thursday.
The Senate voted to limit debate over the nomination of veteran trade lawyer Robert Lighthizer by a 81-15 vote. A final vote could come later in the day or possibly next week.
Lighthizer passed through the procedural vote easily despite the objections of two Republican senators favoring free trade deals, John McCain of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
Delays in Senate confirmation of Lighthizer more than 100 days after his nomination have set back the Trump administration’s trade agenda by months, including the start of NAFTA talks.
The administration must wait for him to be in place before triggering the formal process to begin renegotiating the 23-year-old trade pact.
Lighthizer, who served in the Reagan administration as deputy U.S. Trade Representative, for the past nearly 30 years has been a trade lawyer representing American steel companies in their efforts to fight dumping of foreign-made steel below costs and unfair steel subsidies from foreign governments. He has pledged to strengthen enforcement of existing trade deals and to find new legal tools to combat unfair trade practices.
(Reporting by Jason Lange and Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)