June 7, 2011 / 8:33 PM / in 7 years

Republican criticism of commerce nominee mounts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top Senate Republican said on Tuesday he would fight President Barack Obama’s choice for commerce secretary, former energy executive John Bryson, whom he called an “environmental extremist.”

“The president has appointed someone who is going to make it harder and more expensive for the private sector to create jobs,” said Senator John Barrasso, a member of the Senate Republican leadership.

“Instead of appointing an economic leader, he has appointed an environmental extremist,” Barrasso said.

He cited Bryson’s support for climate change legislation that failed to clear the Senate and his role in the founding of the National Resource Defense Council, a leading environmental group.

Obama tapped Bryson, a former chief executive of California energy company Edison International, to replace Gary Locke, whom he nominated to become U.S. ambassador to China.

In a White House ceremony last week, Obama said Bryson’s business and energy background would help the administration meet its goal of doubling exports over five years.

“In the years ahead, a key to achieving our export goal will be promoting clean energy in the United States,” Obama said. “That’s how we’ll reduce our dependence on foreign oil and that’s how we’ll encourage new businesses and jobs to take root on our shores.”

A group of 44 Senate Republicans, including their leader Mitch McConnell, have already vowed not to approve Bryson or any other trade nominees until Obama sends long-delayed free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress for votes.

But Barrasso now joins Senator Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in saying that Bryson’s background and support for the Markey-Waxman “cap-and-trade” climate bill should disqualify him for the Commerce Department job.

“By selecting John Bryson to head the Department of Commerce, President Obama is clearly demonstrating that he has no intention of backing down from his job-killing agenda,” Inhofe said in a statement last week.

“I will be working actively to defeat this nomination,” the Oklahoma Republican said.

There also has been criticism of the Bryson nomination from outside the government.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, tore into Obama’s choice in a blog published on Forbes website, calling it “yet another example of hostility to job-creation and pro-business policies.”

Clyde Prestowitz, who served in the Commerce Department during the Republican administration of President Ronald Reagan, said Bryson was the wrong man to lead the department because he had “no clue” how to respond foreign competitive pressures and create new American jobs.

Barrasso’s comments came a day after the White House expressed disappointment that Nobel Prize winner Peter Diamond’s nomination to be a Federal Reserve governor was thwarted by Republican “obstructionism” in Congress.

Diamond said on Sunday he would withdraw as a nominee for the role at the U.S. central bank after his candidacy was repeatedly opposed by Republicans.

Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Doug Palmer; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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