The Senate confirmed Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative on Thursday, putting in place the man the Trump administration has been waiting on to begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Unlike many of President Trump’s appointees, the Senate easily approved Lighthizer, voting 82-14. Still, the vote was held up for weeks because Lighthizer needed a special waiver due to his past work as a lobbyist for the Brazilian government. Lighthizer got that waiver in late April, and he is now Trump’s last cabinet-level appointee to be confirmed. Also unlike Trump’s other staff choices, Lighthizer has a long history of working in the government, and he served as deputy trade representative under President Ronald Reagan.
In keeping with Trump’s “America First” agenda, Lighthizer is skeptical of free-trade deals. He has spent much of the past three decades representing U.S. steel companies fighting the importation of foreign-made steel heavily subsidized and sold below production cost. In his new role, his biggest task, and possibly most immediate, will be to renegotiate NAFTA. The soonest he could do this would be in 90 days, because Trump is required to trigger a consultation period before talks can begin. Mexico and Canada have already begun that process.