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Jim DeMint: No More Appointees Until After Elections

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) believes that remaining executive branch appointees requiring Senate confirmation should be put off until after the elections, including the confirmation of Michael Huerta to head the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We have some policy concerns with some of the contracts he’s done with labor, but it makes no sense at this point when he is already acting FAA chairman to give the guy a five-year term when we are looking at a new administration,” DeMint said Wednesday.

“I think that should be across the board. We are just a couple months away from an election, and those things just need to wait,” DeMint continued.

He noted that holding off on executive branch appointees will allow for the winner of the presidential election to make the call, rather than putting in lame-duck officials. He expects the winner will be Republican Mitt Romney.

“My hope is that we will have a Romney administration that can look at all of these nominations in a different way,” DeMint said.

His comments came after Huerta’s nomination was cleared on a voice vote by the Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

DeMint said he also opposes Huerta’s nomination because it would be for a five-year term, which would tie Romney’s hands should he win the presidency.

The appointment “would be through the Romney administration, so that gives Romney no ability to put the person he needs in place,” DeMint said.

He mentioned the labor contract with air traffic controllers union, which he believes the nation can’t afford.

“We’ve got a whole lot of modernizations and things that have to happen with FAA. The contracts they have now with the air traffic controllers, what these folks make in benefits, are not the kind of thing we can sustain,” DeMint said. “We have questions about the particular person, but ... we should not give anyone a five-year term at this point.”

DeMint warned that he would fight the nomination on the floor, forcing Democratic leaders to file cloture and burn precious little floor time.

“If someone wants to file cloture and spend 30, 60 hours of debate, they are welcome to it,” DeMint said.

A Democratic Commerce Committee aide said they hold out hope that Huerta can be confirmed.

“Mr. Huerta deserves better than to be held over into the next year for no good reason,” the aide said. “And the FAA deserves better also.”

Huerta assumed the role of acting administrator after former FAA chief Randy Babbitt resigned in December 2011 after being charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Huerta was formerly the FAA’s deputy administrator and was confirmed for that post in June 2010. He has ties to Romney, having worked with him as managing director of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Commerce Committee, was sympathetic to DeMint’s argument regarding the FAA nominee, but he was not prepared to call for a blockade of all executive branch nominees.

“There is some merit to” DeMint’s argument on Huerta, Blunt said. “I voted for Michael Huerta in committee, but with the specific understanding that these may not go forward,” Blunt said. “If the president is re-elected, he can submit that name again in January and he would surely be confirmed.”

With regard to a blanket hold on executive branch appointees, “I would look at the other case by case,” Blunt said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he also would not recommend a blanket hold, but he backs the current blockade on circuit court judges, known as the Thurmond Rule.

Alternatively known as the “Leahy Rule” by some Republicans after Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the doctrine holds that within six months of a presidential election, the opposition party can, and typically does, refuse to allow votes on circuit court judges.

“I think we have a very well-established bipartisan Thurmond/Leahy Rule that affects circuit court judges, and I support that,” Alexander said.

Alexander noted that because judicial appointments are for life, they are treated differently than executive branch appointments.

He also said that there is not much time left before the elections, so not many, if any, nominees could be considered on the floor.

“I am not ready to put a blanket hold” on executive branch nominations, Alexander said.

“I think we need look at the president’s nominations one by one,” he said, adding that “I don’t think there is enough time to confirm anyone before the election.”

His comments come after the House sent the president a bill that he sponsored along with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would eliminate the confirmation of 169 executive nominations to junior and part-time positions.

The bill was part of an agreement entered into by Democratic leaders at the beginning of last year in lieu of changing Senate rules.

Part of the agreement called for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) entering into a gentlemen’s agreement whereby Republicans were supposed to allow bills to come to the floor without procedural barriers and Reid was supposed to allow GOP amendments instead of using a maneuver known as “filling the amendment tree” to block the minority from proposing amendments to a bill. But it hasn’t worked out that way.

The agreement has broken down, and now Reid has said he will move to eliminate the ability to filibuster motions to proceed to legislation that prevent consideration of bills before debate even begins.

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