Obama's Commerce Pick Criticizes Federal Fight With Boeing

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's pick to head the Commerce Department criticized a federal labor board's lawsuit against the Boeing Co. on Tuesday over the aerospace giant's decision to locate a new plant in South Carolina.

The nominee, John Bryson, recently stepped down from Boeing's board.

Bryson's comments came at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on his nomination to succeed Gary Locke, whom Obama has named to become U.S. ambassador to China.

At the session, Republicans raised questions about Bryson's views on the environment and criticized the Obama administration for what they said is over-regulation of businesses. They also reiterated their threat to block Senate approval of Bryson's nomination until Obama sends the panel trade pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.

Republicans asked Bryson about the National Labor Relations Board's suit against Boeing, which accuses the aircraft builder of opening a plant in South Carolina in retaliation against union workers in Washington state who went on strike in 2008. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said the NLRB action was "an unprecedented violation of a company's ability" to locate its facilities where it wants to.

"I think it's not the right judgment," Bryson said of the NLRB suit. He said Boeing officials were surprised by the legal action and said they believed they were "doing the right thing for the country" by keeping jobs in the U.S. and not moving them abroad.

The NLRB wants the work relocated to Washington state. The $750 million plant in South Carolina, for assembling 787 jets, opened this month.

The White House has not taken a clear side in the Boeing dispute. Administration officials have noted that the NLRB is an independent agency and said Bryson would not participate in any Boeing matters.

Bryson joined Boeing's board in the early 1990s and stepped down last week after Obama nominated him for the Commerce job, said department spokesman Kevin Griffis.

Bryson, 67, is a businessman who was a long-time chief executive of Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison, the giant electrical utility. He's been on the board of several companies, including the Walt Disney Co., and once headed California's Public Utilities Commission.

He was a founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970 and made favorable comments about a 2009 House bill that would have limited greenhouse gas emissions by industry.

GOP senators noted that in March, they wrote a letter promising to block any nominee to head the Commerce Department until the free trade pacts are sent to the Senate for approval. Democrats want the agreements to include aid for workers who lose jobs that are shipped abroad, which Republicans oppose.

"It's going to be difficult for Republicans to support Mr. Bryson's nomination" until those agreements are sent to the Senate, said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

Democrats defended Bryson as someone who understands business' needs, with committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., saying, "He has the kind of ability that will create jobs in America."

But Republicans criticized the Obama administration for what they said were excessive taxes and unneeded regulations on business and questioned whether Bryson would champion corporate America.

"This much is certain," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. "We are not going to tax or regulate our way out of the economic downturn."

Bryson told the senators that he would be a "leading voice in eliminating regulations where the cost exceeds benefits," and said he favored lower corporate taxes.