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The New Commerce Secretary Is Here! The New Commerce Secretary Is Here!

President Obama will nominate former Edison International CEO John Bryson to be the next Commerce Secretary, replacing Gary Locke. Locke was nominated as the next US Ambassador to China, in place of Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.

Bryson was the CEO of Edison International, the parent company of the utility company Southern California Edison, from 1990 to 2008. He’s on the board of directors of big company’s like Boeing and Walt Disney, and he chairs or sits on the board of public interest organizations like the Public Policy Institute of California, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Keck School of Medicine at USC and the California Endowment. He co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council. He’s also on the advisory board of Deutsche Bank Americas!

Whatever you think of this resume, understand that the Commerce Secretary has almost no public policy profile, especially nine years out from the next Census, their biggest initiative. The environmental background is probably a good thing, considering that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is inexplicably part of Commerce, but other than that he will most likely have little effect on any policy debates.

It’s more what Bryson symbolizes that probably matters to the White House. He’s a CEO, so they can check that box once again and dispel notions of being an anti-business Administration, when nothing can be further from the truth.

The most important facet of this Bryson nomination is probably the confirmation process. Republicans already pre-hijacked the nomination, when they announced they would not move forward on it until the three stalled trade deals got a vote in Congress. Though the trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia have been largely completed, they have stalled again, because the White House has demanded a restoration of Trade Adjustment Assistance for US workers as a condition of the trade deals. Republicans balked at this, and so we’re at an impasse. Bryson steps into that.

And if Republicans want to take that further, they could hijack Bryson’s and all appointments if they don’t get their way on something else. Richard Shelby took all appointments hostage last year over a defense project in his home state.

This also gets tied up with the fight over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. To guard against a recess appointment for that position, potentially of Elizabeth Warren, Senate Republicans denied unanimous consent and got pro forma sessions in place, to stop all recess appointments. That would include one for Bryson, if it came to that. There’s talk that, even if the Senate brought their adjournment to a vote (and that cannot be filibustered), the House would block adjournment and deny the means for a recess appointment as well. But they may not want to do that lest it happen to them at a future date.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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