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Commerce Department nominee deserves the job

Within a rational political universe, John Bryson's credentials would bring him confirmation by acclamation.

June 21, 2011
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

John Bryson's nomination to be President Obama's next secretary of Commerce has been met with the predictable combination of delusion and obstructionism that characterizes the modern confirmation process. Some Senate Republicans vow to hold him hostage to the passage of several long-sought free-trade agreements; others insist they will reject him based on his presumed politics, which they wish were more like theirs. None has advanced an argument worthy of defeating this nomination, and though sensible people will withhold a final judgment until after Bryson is questioned, his credentials are encouraging, as are the endorsements of those who know him.

Bryson is a familiar figure in Los Angeles. A longtime chairman and chief executive of Southern California Edison and Edison International, he is a pillar of the region's business community, admired by the Chamber of Commerce and his fellow executives. He also was a founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, where his work earned him respect and appreciation from California's environmental movement. He's been president of the California Public Utilities Commission and even served as a director of Boeing, dipping his toe into the nation's military-industrial complex. He is thus the rare nominee to present himself to Congress with endorsements from the Chamber, military suppliers and the nation's leading environmental organizations.

Within a rational political universe, that would entitle Bryson to confirmation by acclamation. But zealots are suspicious. His critics question his support for regulation to address climate change and see his NRDC leadership (more than three decades ago) as evidence that he's a "job killer" and an "environmental extremist" rather than a job promoter as the Commerce secretary traditionally is. Never mind that Bryson's record is one of both serious business development and responsible environmental stewardship.

Then there's the issue of the free-trade agreements. Yes, Obama has moved too slowly to forward the South Korea, Colombia and Panama trade pacts that will create jobs and expand the reach of American business. And yes, Obama's labor allies are principally to blame for obstructing those pacts. But those objections are irrelevant to Bryson's nomination and shouldn't be used as an excuse to hold it up.

Many Republicans undoubtedly would prefer a nominee who championed drilling as the answer to America's energy needs or who countenanced their anti-scientific challenge to global warming. They have their chance: Elect Sarah Palin. In the meantime, Obama deserves a Cabinet secretary of impeccable credentials and broad support. Bryson has a chance to prove that he's all of that at the hearings that begin Tuesday. Republicans owe him the opportunity.

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