Health care and the Supreme Court may be sucking all the oxygen out of the Senates air, but that hasnt stopped Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from kicking off a personal campaign to unlock dozens of stalled executive branch nominations.
Reid came to the floor three times Wednesday and several more times throughout the week to plead with his Republican colleagues to stop holding up a growing number of President Barack Obamas appointees. The Majority Leaders appeal was his most forceful yet, and aides say he has no plans to abandon the effort anytime soon.
I would hope that people would search their conscience and try to get these done, Reid said, explaining that procedural motions that he could employ to clear the nominees would eat up too much floor time. It would take until the summer, until we finish the July recess and beyond, for us to get this done, filing cloture on every one of these. I hope it doesnt come to that.
It was the most aggressive call that Reid has made yet to move the nominations, and indeed, Republicans did agree last week to allow three to go through this week: Lt. Gen. Douglas Fraser to serve as commander of U.S. Southern Command; Adm. James Stavridis as commander of U.S. European Command and supreme allied commander for Europe; and Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Despite that progress, however, Reid will begin next week with a total of 31 nominations pending, including controversial appointees such as Dawn Johnsen to lead the Office of Legal Counsel and Robert Groves to serve as director of the U.S. Census Bureau.
If they want to push these guys through, they could hold votes on them, a Republican leadership aide said, adding that Reid has the ability to do it, he just wont exercise it.
In Johnsens case, Reid has acknowledged he doesnt have a filibuster-proof 60 votes for final passage. Reids task has been made more difficult because hes working with a caucus of 57 ailing Democratic Sens. Robert Byrd (W.Va.) and Edward Kennedy (Mass.) have been absent from the chamber.
Republicans have also placed holds on a handful of nominations or have warned that they plan to do so. Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has already stated that he will hold up the nomination of Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) for undersecretary of State for arms control and international security after she is voted out of the Foreign Relations Committee.
The Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed 151 of Obamas nominees as of May 31. At the same point in President George W. Bushs first term, 129 nominations had passed out of a Republican-led upper chamber.
As the Majority Leader braces for a potential showdown over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor later this summer, he continues to reach out to Republicans to work out agreements on the lingering nominees, Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle said.
But unlike nominees considered earlier this year for top Cabinet positions, the second-tier candidates do not bring the same sense of urgency to the chamber.
These nominations have a different interest level among Senators, the Republican aide said. Now that were talking about undersecretaries, I dont hear as much chatter.