The Senate on Wednesday night confirmed the contentious nomination of John Bryson to lead the Commerce Department following months of delays and procedural holds by Republicans.
The vote exceeded the 60-vote threshold and passed 74 to 26. Bryson will become the 37th secretary of the Commerce Department, and replaces Gary Locke, who now serves as ambassador to China.
“John Bryson is really well-suited for this role at this particular time when the economy is fragile and job [creation] isn’t occurring fast enough,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.).
Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) called Bryson an “exceptional choice by the President.”
“I think he’s the right person to be taking the helm at Commerce at this critical and defining moment for our economy,” Kerry said.
President Obama nominated Bryson earlier this year, but it was blocked by Republicans to force the President’s hand in sending three free-trade agreements to Congress, which were finally ratified by both Houses last week.
In July, Sen. James Inhofe (R.-Okla.) also placed a hold on the nominee who was a founder of the controversial green group Natural Resources Defense Council.
Inhofe said the 60-vote threshold was key to Republicans allowing the vote to go forward, but that Bryson is “simply too extreme,” and that he worked with conservative Republicans to block the confirmation during the final vote.
In particular, Inhofe cited Bryson’s belief that cap-and-trade legislation is a moderate and acceptable approach to address climate change.
“This is legislation that would cost American taxpayers billions of dollars, destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs, and hurt families and workers by raising the price of gasoline and electricity, yet he thinks it is ‘moderate,’ ” Inhofe said.
Sen. John Barrasso (R.-Wyo.) called Bryson’s stance on cap and trade “job killing,” and said that Obama’s nominee “is the wrong person at the worst time.”
“The President has nominated someone whose political advocacy is detatched from the financial hardship facing tens of millions of Americans today,” Barrasso said.
However, some Republicans said every sitting President deserved to have his nominees confirmed to his cabinet by virtue of his election victory, including the man Obama beat, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.).
“The President has earned that right,” said McCain, former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ranking member of the Commerce Science and Transportation Committee, also opposed Bryson’s stance on cap and trade but voted in favor of his confirmation.
“I believe the President should be given deference in selecting the members of his Cabinet,” Hutchison said.
The American Conservative Union (ACU) urged Republicans to reject the confirmation, citing Bryson’s business record, and said he spent most of his career “advocating policies that kill jobs, rather than foster job creation.”
“As Jerry Brown’s chairman of the California Public Utility Commission, Bryson put in place regulatory policies which have helped California become an economic basket case,” said Larry Hart, ACU’s director of government relations.
“As a corporate leader, Bryson was a leading advocate for cap-and-trade legislation, which would have imposed a de facto energy tax on every American consumer. At a time of high unemployment and a weak economy, the last thing we need is a secretary of Commerce with this record,” Hart said.