Commerce Secretary nominee John Bryson answers questions on Capitol Hill

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President Barack Obama stands with John Bryson after nominating Bryson to be the next Commerce Secretary, on May 31, 2011 in Washington, D.C. If confirmed by the Senate Bryson, former Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and President of Edison International, will become the 37th Commerce Secretary, succeeding Gary Locke.

A short confirmation hearing took place Tuesday for former Edison International chief John Bryson – the president’s nominee for federal Commerce Secretary. Between several long opening statements and a series of floor votes, members of the US Senate Commerce Committee didn’t have much opportunity to question Bryson, and barely touched on the issues that could hold up his nomination.

His fellow Californian Dianne Feinstein introduced John Bryson. She emphasized his business credentials and said she was “miffed” when he refused to support a bill to reduce carbon emissions because Edison’s energy portfolio was 40% coal at the time. Feinstein said she respected Bryson’s “fidelity” to the “causes he’s entrusted to serve.”

"John’s experience paints a picture of a leader who focuses on the practical and the achievable," Feinstein said. "And I think this is really his great selling point. "

Republicans were less worried about Bryson’s environmental past as co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council than they were about his more recent stint on the National Labor Relations Board.

That agency has accused Boeing of union busting and has stopped the aerospace company from building its new plane in South Carolina. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has threatened to hold up Bryson’s nomination over the issue. The state’s other Republican in the Senate, Jim DeMint, lobbed a blunt bit of rhetoric in Bryson’s direction.

"The President’s not speaking up," said DeMint. "My question is: will you?"

Senator John Thune of South Dakota reminded Bryson of a Republican promise to withhold support for any trade-related nominee until the White House signs off on pending free trade agreements with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea.

"I believe I speak for a good number of those in our caucus when I say that it’s going to be difficult for Republicans to support Mr. Bryson’s nomination until the administration submits those free trade agreements," said Thune.

The Obama administration wants to tie the trade agreement to a measure that would help American workers who’ve lost jobs to international trade. Bryson agreed with Thune that exports are important to the economy.

"We’ve got to continue to go to this at least doubling, at least doubling of the exports that we do in the country by the year 2015 target that the President set it out," Bryson said.

The Senate hasn’t yet scheduled a confirmation vote for John Bryson.

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