There may be no legislative brinksmanship threatening to delay the arrival of August recess this year, but Senate Democratic leaders are looking to use the run-up to the month-long break as a de facto deadline to clear a bevy of nominations.
As expected, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee rushed into action to get two replacement nominees to the National Labor Relations Board to the Senate floor. The HELP panel on Wednesday endorsed Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Jean Schiffer in 13-9 votes, with GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska crossing party lines to support each nominee.
President Barack Obama sent the nominations to the Senate a little more than a week ago, as part of a deal brokered to avoid a floor standoff over the "nuclear option" to change the chamber's procedures for processing nominees.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Tuesday that he expected a full slate of five NLRB picks would be confirmed by the end of the week.
"Once these five nominations are approved by the Senate, our country will have a fully-confirmed, fully-functional board for the first time in more than a decade — a huge step forward for workers, businesses and our economy," HELP Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said.
We have a lot of nominations we're going to try to complete in the next seven or eight days. We have — we're — I'm looking at the ambassador to the United Nations, [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives]," Reid said, also mentioning the nomination of Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the head of the Council of Economic Advisers.
The ATF has gone without a Senate-confirmed director since 2006. Acting director B. Todd Jones emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party line vote, and it seems a vote to beat back a filibuster attempt will be needed for Reid to get that nomination moving forward.
There's also the issue of the remaining appellate vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Judiciary panel held a nomination hearing for another of those individuals, Nina Pillard, on Wednesday.
At that hearing, committee members once again disagreed about caseload, with Republicans saying that the vacant court seats would be better used elsewhere. Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., disputed that contention, noting the Democrats supported the 2003 confirmation of John G. Roberts Jr. (now the chief justice of the Supreme Court) to the D.C. appeals court, despite the effect on caseload.
"There is simply no precedent for this attempt by committee Republicans to prevent three well qualified nominees from filling the three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit," Leahy said. "The D.C. Circuit caseload argument has been made in earnest only by Senate Republicans when they wish to prevent a Democratic president from fulfilling his constitutional duty to nominate judges."
Pillard is currently a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, but Leahy highlighted something else: "She is lucky enough to have family in the great State of Vermont."