Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration’s plan to win swift approval of Rita Hayes to be the U.S. textile ambassador has hit a snag, as last-minute maneuvering — reportedly by retailer-importer interests — blocked Senate consideration.
In a classic display of political one-upmanship, the retailer-importer interests last Friday reportedly convinced at least one senator to place a “hold” on Hayes’s nomination, which the Senate was slated to approve, along with several dozen other diplomatic appointments, by unanimous consent without a roll call.
Sources said these interests were livid when they learned that on the previous day, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held an informal meeting and decided to send Hayes’s nomination to the full Senate without holding hearings.
Hayes has served as chief U.S. textile negotiator since September, following a 29-month tenure as the U.S.’s top textile and apparel policy maker at the Commerce Department. Traditionally, the chief textile negotiator is nominated to be an ambassador, and the committee has held public hearings on these nominations.
Reportedly, one or two senators exercised the hold option on Hayes’s nomination. Efforts to identify them were unavailing, but sources said they represent states where retailer-importers have significant political clout.
Under Senate rules, any member can put a hold on a nomination by informing the Majority Leader that he or she wants to do so. The nomination cannot be taken up by the Senate in any fashion so long as the hold remains.
Senators have been known to exercise holds for extended periods of time in order to win concessions or make political points.
There are unconfirmed reports that the hold on Hayes’s nomination will only be dropped in exchange for Senate or House hearings on the course of the U.S. textile import control program. Coincidentally, this spring Congress’s General Accounting Office is slated to issue a preliminary report on the program.
In response to the hold placed on Hayes’s nomination, Carlos Moore, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute’s executive vice president, said he hoped the Senate will move quickly to confirm her as textile ambassador.
“Rita Hayes,” Moore said, “has already proven herself as an extraordinarily able chief textile negotiator, and this title will better enable her to represent the U.S. in negotiations with foreign government representatives, including trade ministers and ambassadors.”
However, Laura Jones, the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel’s executive director, countered: “When there are bills in Congress to eliminate the textile ambassador position and a textile program itself that costs American consumers billions of dollars a year because of protectionism, the cynical attempt to sneak Hayes’s nomination through in the middle of the night before Christmas, when nobody’s supposed to be paying attention, is underhanded.”
The importer official, who said her group “only alerted people” about the fast-track plan for Hayes’s confirmation, argued that Hayes should be required to testify at a public Senate hearing.
“The import community has taken it on the chin with this [textile] program for many years, and we won’t do this anymore,” she said. “We are a big industry that employs millions of people, and we should be able to have our say before our government.”
— Fairchild News Service

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