Senator blocks vote on nominee

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WASHINGTON (AP) – A New York senator upset with barriers American banks face in China blocked Senate action Friday on the nomination of Susan Schwab to be President Bush’s top trade negotiator.

Bush nominated Schwab to succeed Rob Portman as U.S. trade representative after Portman was tapped to be the next White House budget director.

The administration had hoped Schwab would win confirmation from the full Senate before lawmakers left Friday for a week-long Memorial Day recess.

But Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., blocked that effort.

He said he would not allow a vote to occur until he had received answers from Schwab over how the administration planned to get China to remove barriers that limit the ability of U.S. and other foreign financial service firms to do business in China.

“I know that most senators support your nomination, and it is very possible that I will as well,” Schumer said in a letter to Schwab. “I simply believe that this is a very critical time for U.S. trade relations and I felt that your responses to several of my questions at your nomination hearing, particularly as they related to China and financial services, were unnecessarily evasive and unhelpful.”

Schumer had complained to Schwab during her confirmation hearing that the administration was not applying enough pressure to get China to live up to commitments it had made when joining the World Trade Organization in 2001 to eliminate barriers to foreign banks operating in China.

He cited the apparent failure of Citigroup Inc. to win approval of its bid for a majority stake in Guandong Development Bank.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., joined Schumer in asking Schwab to answer a series of questions on how the administration planned to handle the banking dispute. But Graham made clear he was ready to vote on Schwab’s nomination before she answered the questions.

Under Senate procedures, a single senator can place a hold on a nomination, blocking a confirmation vote by the full Senate.

Administration officials said that Schwab would reply to the questions posed by Schumer and Graham and that it was hoped a vote could be held quickly once the Senate returns the week of June 5.

“Ambassador Schwab has very broad bipartisan support in the Senate. We hope that she will be confirmed as quickly as possible,” said Steve Norton, a spokesman for the trade office.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed unhappiness with Schumer’s move.

“There’s no reason to play games with her nomination,” Grassley said in a statement. “The objecting senator has made his point. Delaying her confirmation doesn’t add anything.”

AP-ES-05-26-06 2012EDT

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