Reid Says FEC Picks Will Move

Posted June 20, 2008 at 5:55pm

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday said he hopes to move a package of bipartisan presidential nominees to the Federal Election Commission this week, even though Reid blocked an effort by Republicans to vote on the picks late last week.

The FEC nominees have been caught in a standoff between Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the White House that has essentially shuttered the election regulatory and enforcement body.

Prior to the Memorial Day recess, Reid proposed moving the bulk of the nominees while offering an expedited confirmation process for a pending nominee, Matthew Petersen.

But Republicans balked, arguing that it would leave a newly reopened FEC in the hands of Democrats for weeks.

With Petersen now in the queue, McConnell attempted Friday to move the slate of nominees based on Reid’s Memorial Day proposal.

Reid objected, 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 Petersen, Bush’s latest pick for the FEC.

Additionally, 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 was out of the country.

“Frankly, we are confused about the Majority Leader’s statement this morning and his source of information,” White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said. “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.”

A Republican Senate aide close to McGahn said Friday that while he had been on vacation in the Caribbean recently, he had already returned to Washington and had not been in Europe at all.

Republicans were also unconvinced by Reid’s broader argument that the delays were a result of his Members needing more time to consider the nominations. 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 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,” Manley said.

“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,” he added.