Republican U.S. senators on Monday threatened to delay votes on all trade nominations, including the soon-to-be-vacant spot of Commerce secretary, until President Barack Obama sends long-delayed trade pacts with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress for a vote.
"Get all three of them up here and you won't have any trouble confirming people," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, summarizing his message to Obama.
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The same threat was conveyed in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signed by 44 of the Senate's 47 Republicans.
Since Obama has already said he wants the South Korea pact approved, the letter focused on the two other draft agreements with Panama and Colombia.
"So important are these deals to our economy and our relations with these key allies in Latin America that 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 Republicans said.
All three pacts were negotiated and signed when George W. Bush was president, but have been stalled because of concerns raised by Democrats who controlled the House of Representatives from January 2007 through December 2010.
After Republicans captured control of the House and narrowed the Democratic majority in the Senate in November elections, the Obama administration renegotiated the South Korean agreement to address U.S. auto industry concerns that the pact failed to tear down barriers that had long kept American cars out of that market.
Last week, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the Senate Finance Committee the administration wanted to win approval of all three trade deals.
He also said the White House was ready to work with lawmakers on implementing legislation for the South Korean pact, the largest of the three accords.
However, Kirk frustrated Republicans by again saying more work was needed to resolve labor and violence concerns that have blocked approval of the Colombia pact, which is vehemently opposed by U.S. union groups.