Deal on FEC Picks Sidetracked in Senate

Posted June 20, 2008 at 11:40am

Updated: 2:55 p.m.

Hopes that a long-standing impasse over President Bush’s picks for the Federal Election Commission could be at an end were dealt a setback Friday when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to move a package of bipartisan picks.

Although Democrats and Republicans now say a vote on the FEC nominations should occur next week, the Senate repeatedly has come close to moving on the issue only to have it derailed at the last moment.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) attempted early Friday to move the slate of nominees, which was based on a proposal Reid made prior to the Memorial Day recess. But Reid balked, saying that members of his Conference had questions for some of the FEC picks. Specifically, he noted that at least one Democratic Senator had yet to interview Bush’s latest pick for the FEC, Matthew Petersen.

Republicans, however, were unconvinced by Reid’s reasoning. Privately, GOP sources questioned the timing of Reid’s decision to sidetrack a deal he had previously endorsed, noting that a deadline looms for FEC intervention in a lawsuit the Democratic National Committee has filed against Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign.

Lacking a legally required quorum of commissioners, the FEC has essentially been dormant for months as the White House and Reid fought over the commission’s makeup.

A senior Democratic leadership aide dismissed those complaints, noting that Reid had offered to confirm more than enough commissioners prior to Memorial Day for the FEC to function, and thus take up the McCain issue. “If we wanted to delay for that, we never would have offered to confirm the four pending before Memorial Day,” this aide said.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley laid the blame squarely on Senate Republicans, accusing them of busting the pre-Memorial Day deal. “Democrats offered to confirm the four pending FEC nominees before Memorial Day. With the one holdover member already serving, that would have brought the agency to five members, one more than the required quorum for official action. The Republicans objected to our offer because they did not have a replacement ready for the withdrawn nomination of Hans von Spakovsky. We offered to confirm the pending nominations and assurances that the new nominee, Matt Petersen, would be moved without delay when he did arrive. They said no thanks, we’ll wait. … Make no mistake about it, had the Republicans not blocked our consent to confirm the nominees before Memorial Day, there would be a functioning FEC today,” Manley said.

In a floor speech responding to McConnell’s request, Reid said he would not agree to move the nominees at this point in part because Donald McGahn, one of Bush’s nominees, is in Europe and that Democrats were arranging to talk to him on the phone regarding some outstanding questions.

McGahn “is in Europe now, and he has agreed to do that by telephone. So within the next couple of days he will do that. I have every belief very, very early next week we should be able to complete this,” Reid said.

But a White House spokeswoman denied McGahn or any other nominee is out of the country.

“Frankly, we are confused about the Majority Leader’s statement this morning and his source of information,” said White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore. “All of the FEC nominees are currently in the country and have been made readily available to speak to Senators to address any remaining questions. We were disappointed that they were not confirmed today and that our country will have to wait even longer to have a bipartisan, fully functioning FEC.”