The Senate confirmed Robert Lighthizer as the US Trade Representative (USTR) on Thursday. The USTR is a Cabinet position, and thus Lighthizer will now serve as President Trump’s top trade negotiator.
The Senate confirmed Lighthizer with support from both Republicans and Democrats. The 82-14 vote followed months of delays prior to his confirmation.
In order to serve as USTR, Congress had to first pass a waiver to confirm him. Section 141 of the Trade Act of 1974 bars anyone who has “directly represented, aided or advised a foreign entity … in any trade negotiation, or trade dispute” from serving as USTR or Deputy USTR. In the mid-1980s Lighthizer represented Brazil in a trade dispute over ethanol with the US, and in the early 1990s he represented an electronics trade group linked to the Chinese government.
The Senate Finance Committee approved a waiver of this restriction, and the waiver passed the House and Senate and was signed into law on May 5, 2017. The confirmation of Lighthizer means that the administration can now begin the formal process to begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico, as well as moving forward with other trade deals.