Clinton Confirmed; Holder Held Over

Posted January 21, 2009 at 6:50pm

Despite efforts to slow the appointments of a handful of President Barack Obama’s nominees, Senate Republicans don’t appear interested in ultimately trying to vote any of them down.

The Senate easily passed the nomination of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as secretary of State on Wednesday, approving their outgoing colleague 94-2 after three hours of floor debate in which Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) called for swift approval.

Even Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who placed a hold on Clinton’s nomination Friday, ultimately voted for the former first lady. He had held up the nomination to make sure that there was sufficient floor debate on Clinton’s relationship to the foundation run by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

The only two Members to oppose Clinton were GOP Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and David Vitter (La.), two of the chamber’s most conservative Members.

The Senate approved the nominees to lead the Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Labor and Interior departments by unanimous consent Tuesday.

Clinton was originally included in that bloc; the 24-hour holdup prevented her from attending a national security meeting at the White House as Obama’s secretary of State.

The Finance Committee on Wednesday concluded its hearing and appeared ready to approve Timothy Geithner to head the Treasury Department, despite concerns about his having to pay nearly $40,000 in back taxes and once employing a housekeeper whose work papers had expired.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who hammered Geithner on the misstep during an otherwise mild committee hearing Wednesday, said he was not inclined to place a hold on the nominee. If no other Senator tries to stall the appointment from going forward, the Finance Committee will likely send Geithner’s nomination to the full Senate by today.

The Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, on the other hand, postponed its vote by one week on Eric Holder. The attorney general-designate is considered the only nominee to have to weather a delicate confirmation process.

In opening remarks before the scheduled vote, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) once again lauded Holder’s qualifications and asked his Republican colleagues to not hold up the nomination. “Any Senator can delay it, but I hope that no one will,” he said.

Ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who has led the GOP’s offensive against Holder, said that although he had convened a meeting of the committee’s Republicans to discuss the vote, they felt that they had not been given enough time to question Holder and would force a delay.

“There was a unanimous view that there was insufficient time to question Mr. Holder,” Specter said, explaining the delay and noting that he planned to meet with the nominee late today to further discuss some of his concerns.

Leahy, clearly frustrated by Republicans’ decision to slow the process, abruptly adjourned the hearing and quickly left the room.

Afterward, Democrats criticized the delay, complaining that since it is all but certain Holder will be confirmed, the slow-down is pointless.

“I don’t think stalling is in anyone’s interest. If you want to oppose him, oppose him. But let’s have a vote on it,” Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) said of the Holder delay.

Indeed, even Specter acknowledged that the week delay was unlikely to change the outcome, either on the committee or in the full Senate.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a difference in the ultimate disposition of the committee or of the full Senate because of its makeup,” Specter said. But he argued the questioning goes beyond simply deciding whether to support the nominee, maintaining that it is part of the Senate’s constitutional oversight role. And he said putting nominees on record on specific issues helps set benchmarks for their time in office.

“We have a very serious constitutional responsibility,” he said, echoing Cornyn’s case for holding a floor debate on Clinton’s finances.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged that despite Republican opposition, “we’re going to move as quickly as we can” on White House nominations once they clear committee, even if it requires cloture votes and weekend work.

One senior Democratic aide noted that Republicans are using the process to assert their position in the new legislative session as a smaller but still strong minority party.

“They’re squeezing every last bit of prerogative they have under the rules,” the aide said. “They’re wary of opposing Obama too soon, so they’re nitpicking around the edges on his nominees.”