Eye Opener: Ahead of votes, Obama blasts Senate confirmation process
Happy Thursday! The Senate votes today on the nominations of M. Patricia Smith to serve as the Labor Department’s top lawyer and Martha N. Johnson to lead the General Services Administration. Other confirmation votes could occur on Thursday or next week, Senate aides said.
The votes come a day after President Obama criticized a legislative tactic he once practiced himself, saying that Republicans were delaying confirmation votes on several of his nominees for reasons unrelated to their qualifications.
“We’ve got a huge backlog of folks who are unanimously viewed as well qualified, nobody has a specific objection to them, but end up having a hold on them because of some completely unrelated piece of business,” Obama said at a question and answer session during the Senate Democratic Conference at the Newseum in Washington.
Senate rules allow members to place a hold on nominees -- to block their consideration by the chamber -- at any time for any reason. Such holds are often placed anonymously, making it exceedingly difficult for those outside the Senate to track their use. But news reports indicate that Obama, as a senator from Illinois, placed holds on at least three Bush administration nominees amid policy disagreements or concerns about their qualifications.
On Wednesday the president singled out Johnson for attention. She has waited since June for a full Senate vote.
“I don’t have a GSA administrator, even though I nominated somebody who was well qualified several months ago, and nobody can tell me that there’s anything particularly wrong with her,” Obama said. “They’re blocking her because of some unrelated matter.”
Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) placed a hold on Johnson’s nomination in July as he sought information from GSA about plans to build a new federal building in Kansas City, a long standing issue of concern of Missouri’s entire Congressional delegation.
“The senator is far more concerned about the 1,000 federal employees in Kansas City being held hostage than someone who wants a D.C. job,” said Bond spokeswoman Shana Marchio. “The president’s comments show a real lack of understanding of how bureaucrats in Washington have been jerking around the people of Kansas City for the last five years and as we know now, have kept federal employees working in a potentially hazardous facility that even GSA agrees needs to replaced.”
The agency has committed to building a new building in downtown Kansas City and is working with Bond to complete the process, a GSA spokeswoman said.
In 2005, a year after his election, Obama placed a hold on Susan Bodine to lead the Environmental Protection Agency office that oversees Superfund and emergency cleanup programs because the agency had missed a deadline on new regulations for lead paint exposure. In September 2006 Obama and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) blocked Robert L. Wilkie's nomination to serve as the Defense Department's assistant secretary for legislative affairs over a long-delayed Pentagon report on Midwestern wind farms. He joined with other Democratic senators in October 2007 to block the nomination of former Justice Department lawyer Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission.
Von Spakovsky withdrew from consideration in 2008 while Wilkie and Bodine were eventually confirmed.
By the end of 2009, the White House had just under 60 percent of its top 500 nominees confirmed, a figure that lags slightly behind President George W. Bush's after his first year in office, according to The Washington Post's Head Count.
"The President respects the right of senators to express concern about the qualifications or suitability of a nominee, but there is an unacceptable pattern of Republicans using parliamentary moves to anonymously block non-controversial nominees, frequently for reasons unrelated to the nominee or the agency, in order to slow down progress on important issues," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
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• Cabinet and Staff News: Ray LaHood... Toyota... Foot in mouth... Stock drop... 'Nuf said. Energy Secretary Steven Chu visits Chicago today for a "Not My job" guest appearance on NPR's "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me." White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel apologizes ... again ... for his "retard" remark. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. says he decided to charge the Christmas Day bombing suspect. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke speaks at the National Press Club to outline the Obama administration's plans to increase U.S. exports. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visit a Washington child care center today to mark the one year anniversary of the children health insurance bill. Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar later announce the creation of a new advisory council on wildlife conservation and hunting issues at Washington's Theodore Roosevelt Island. The new council replaces the Sporting Conservation Council by expanding it to include representatives from major hunting organizations, according to Salazar aides. Defense Secretary Robert Gates promises "dramatic changes" in how the Pentagon uses retired officers. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair says the U.S. may have to target Americans. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will testify before the Senate Budget Committee on the president's 2011 budget proposal. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke sworn in for another term. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas defends the high court's campaign finance ruling.
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CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY:
• CIA moonlighting to be investigated: The intelligence community will send a report to Congress examining policies that allow employees to moonlight in the private sector for extra cash.
• 3 die in helicopter crash in Germany: The aircraft went down Wednesday in woods near a highway between Viernheim and Lorsch, south of Frankfurt.
• Colin Powell now says gays should be able to serve openly in military: The retired Army general, whose opposition to allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military helped lead to adoption of the "don't ask, don't tell" legislation 17 years ago, said he now thinks the restrictive law should be repealed.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY:
• EPA biofuels guidelines could spur production of ethanol from corn: The nation's farmers got a big boost Wednesday when the Obama administration issued new biofuels guidelines that could open the way for large increases in the production of corn-based ethanol.
• Criticism of Obama on national security likely to remain big issue: The Obama administration is aggressively pushing back against Republican criticism of its handling of terrorism suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
• Illinois prison could begin housing terror suspects by mid-2011: The Obama budget proposal is asking for $237 million to purchase the largely vacant facility. Key congressional Republicans oppose the plan.
• NASA's outsourcing may benefit large contractors: The agency's proposed $19 billion spending plan for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 includes early seed money for development of pioneering technologies to deliver cargo and astronauts to Earth orbit and beyond.
• House panel sees pros and cons in NASA plan: Congressional reaction to President Obama’s budget for NASA divided more along geographical than political lines.
NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY:
• Google to enlist NSA to help it ward off cyberattacks: The world's largest Internet search company and the world's most powerful electronic surveillance organization are teaming up in the name of cybersecurity.
• Lowey: State Department budget faces a 'difficult political environment': It will be an uphill climb for lawmakers defending the Obama administration's $52.8 billion request for the State Department and USAID this year, according the House's top foreign affairs appropriator.
| February 4, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Congress, Eye Opener, Revolving Door
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