John Bryson faced a tough road to become Commerce Secretary

US Commerce Secretary John Bryson attend

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U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson attends a session organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in Mumbai on March 29, 2012. Bryson is currently on medical leave after crashing into two cars.

Federal Commerce Secretary John Bryson is on a medical leave from his job after he hit two cars — one of them twice — over the weekend in the San Gabriel Valley. A Commerce Department spokesman said Bryson had a seizure. It took months of effort by the Obama administration to get Bryson to the cabinet in the first place.

When former Washington governor Gary Locke left the commerce secretary job to become U.S. ambassador to China, President Barack Obama nominated Bryson to succeed him.

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein introduced the former chief of Edison International and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council at his Senate confirmation hearing last June. She told her colleagues, “John’s experience paints a picture of a leader who focuses on the practical and the achievable, and I think this is really his great selling point.”

But the nomination stalled. The top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, put the process on hold. He railed against Bryson’s work for the Defense Council.

Inhofe labeled the Council as “a left-wing environmental organization, which in the name of global warming, seeks to cut off access to our natural resources and increase drastically the price of electricity and gasoline across America.” He said, “the fact that he is being nominated to be secretary of Commerce is so ironic, because here’s a guy who wants to kill commerce.”

Other GOP senators complained about Bryson’s role on the National Labor Relations Board because he tried to stop aerospace giant Boeing from moving its manufacturing from Washington state to South Carolina.

Some political observers wondered whether the president would have to install his nominee through a recess appointment. It took until late last October for the U.S. Senate to vote to confirm John Bryson as the 37th U.S. Commerce Secretary.

He told a Brookings Institution audience in January that his top priority was assisting American manufacturing.“Build it here and sell it everywhere,” Bryson said. “If we do that, we can retain and even enhance our U.S. economic preeminence.”

For now, Bryson’s health will be his top priority. Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, a veteran economist, will assume his duties until further notice.

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