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Until late Wednesday, it appeared as if Reid and administration officials were on the cusp of finding some common ground, with sources speculating that as many as dozens of nominees could win voice approval before the Majority Leader adjourned the chamber for the year. The talks included some of Reid’s personal picks for some key commissions, like extending the nominations of Jonathan Adelstein — a former aide to then-Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) — at the Federal Communications Commission, Stuart Ishimaru at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Greg Jaczko at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Negotiations to fill soon-to-be-vacated Federal Election Commission seats also broke down Wednesday, likely leaving four commissioners out of work in the coming weeks — and the elections regulator largely toothless.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to stick to his guns on GOP nominee Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department lawyer who allegedly pushed controversial voting policies under White House Justice Department appointee Bradley Schlozman.
Reiterating what he has said for months, the Minority Leader suggested to reporters early in the day that von Spakvosky’s nomination was not up for negotiation.
“The Democrats have picked their nominees and we’ve picked ours. What we have here — once again it happened with one of our nominees toward the end of the Clinton administration — the Democrats trying to veto one of our nominees," McConnell said. “That isn’t going to happen. They’re all four going to go together or none of them will be approved.”
Reid attempted to cut a deal with McConnell, dicing up the block of nominations and holding a separate vote on each nominee. But by mid-evening Wednesday, both sides remained at an impasse: Reid wanted a 51-vote majority to confirm each of the four nominees; McConnell demanded a 51-vote majority to OK von Spakovsky’s nomination, but a 60 vote margin for the remaining three.
Democratic Sens. John Kerry (Mass.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and presidential nominee Barack Obama (Ill.) all have placed holds on von Spakovsky’s nomination.
Von Spakovsky’s nomination was tied to those of fellow Republican David Mason, the panel's current vice-chairman, and Democrats Robert Lenhard, a former union lawyer and current FEC chairman, and Steven Walther, Reid’s former lawyer.
Without a deal, only two commissioners — Mason, whose tenure at the agency predates term limits, and Democrat Ellen Weintraub, who is term-limited but may keep her job until her replacement is named — may remain on the payroll at the start of the next session. That would be two commissioners short of a necessary quorum necessary to fine and provide guidance to candidates and political committees.
Matthew Murray contributed to this report.