Senate GOP pressures White House on free trade deals

Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, speaks with reporters following a weekly Republican policy luncheon, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 8, 2011. From left are: Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, McConnell, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell and other Republicans spea with reporters on Capitol Hill last week.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Senate Republicans put the White House and Senate Democrats on notice they intend to block Senate action on all trade related nominations including Commerce secretary until the president sends to Congress free trade agreements for Columbia, Panama and South Korea.

At a news conference with reporters, Senate Minority Leader McConnell said this is about Jobs and the free trade pacts need to be sent to Capitol Hill "as rapidly as possible."

"Mr. President, go on and do what you say you are for," McConnell said. "Get it on up here, get all three of them up here, and you won't have any trouble confirming people who are going to be put up for secretary of Commerce, which we know is open or any trade related position that may come open that requires Senate ratification."

McConnell announced he has 44 Republican signatures on a letter to the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicating they won't move forward on trade related positions that requires confirmation until all three trade agreements are sent to congress.

The letter says, "We will use all the tools at our disposal to force action, including withholding support for any nominee for Commerce secretary and any trade-related nominees."(read the letter here)

"To say that they are going hold up government basically until these trade agreements come up seems very short sighted to me," Senate Majority Leader Reid responded. "We are going to work with them in any way that we can. But trade agreements should stand on their own merits, not be based on whether someone is going to be approved through the Senate."

President Obama announced last week he chose Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to be the next ambassador of China which means the Senate will have to approve a new Commerce secretary as his replacement in the near future.

The administration has indicated it's ready to send to Congress the trade agreement with South Korea, but needed more time to work on the Columbia and Panama free trade pacts.

John Nolen is a CBS News Capitol Hill Producer.