WASHINGTON The Senate on Thursday approved Miriam Sapiro to be deputy U.S. trade representative for Europe and the Americas, filling one of several still vacant slots on President Barack Obama's senior trade team.
Sapiro, an Internet policy specialist with an extensive background in international affairs, was confirmed along with a host of ambassadors, judges and other officials on a voice vote shortly before the Senate wrapped up work for the year.
Her nomination had been blocked for months by Senator Jim Bunning, a Republican from the tobacco-growing state of Kentucky who hoped to exert pressure on the Obama administration to resolve his concerns over recent tobacco legislation passed by Canada.
Bunning was absent on Thursday for key Senate votes on healthcare reform and to raise the U.S. debt limit.
Sapiro, a former State Department lawyer, is currently president of Summit Strategies International, which advises non-profit organizations and companies on international Internet and telecommunications policy issues.
She worked on European issues at both the State Department and the White House during the administration of former President Bill Clinton and helped in negotiations on the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnian wars.
As Obama approaches the end of his first year in office, a number of key international positions remain vacant at the U.S. Trade Representative's office, the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department.
Some foreign officials see that as a sign the United States is not serious about finishing the long-running Doha round of world trade talks or other initiatives that require international coordination.
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee backed Michael Punke to be U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Lael Brainard to be Treasury undersecretary for international affairs and Isi Siddiqui to be chief U.S. agricultural negotiator.
But the Senate approved none of those nominations on Thursday and the earliest it could is January 19, when it returns to work. That would be one day short of Obama's first anniversary in office.
Meanwhile, Obama's choice to be Commerce undersecretary for international trade, former Clinton White House adviser Frank Sanchez, is still awaiting Senate Finance Committee action on his nomination.
(Editing by Eric Beech)