Will Nominations Move With Recess Approaching?

Posted July 24, 2010 at 6:09pm

Seventy executive and judicial nominees are pending on the Senate calendar, but only one is sure to have a floor vote in the next two weeks.

Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court will dominate the floor the week of Aug. 2, with a final vote on her confirmation expected to be one of the last things the Senate does before adjourning for the summer recess. But 69 other nominees, including circuit court judges and Cabinet undersecretaries, are also awaiting action — and whether any of those will clear before the August break is anyone’s guess.

President Barack Obama used his recess appointment power to clear Donald Berwick’s nomination to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over the July Fourth break, a move that enraged Republicans, who still have a bad taste in their mouths over the issue. This week, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sought to push a sense of the Senate resolution declaring that the recess appointment “constitutes an abuse of power by the President.”

Maine GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) sent a letter to Obama this week urging him “to follow regular order” in nominating a head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by the newly enacted financial reform bill.

“We have been deeply disappointed by recess appointments in the last few months and trust that you will agree that the role of the CFPB is far too critical to be handled without the advice and consent of the Senate and the full public airing of relevant issues that that entails,” the three wrote in a letter sent Thursday. “Our constituents expect greater transparency from their government, and we look forward to your cooperation in making that possible by avoiding a recess appointment for this key position.”

Many of the noncontroversial nominations pending on the Senate calendar enjoy GOP support, although clearing a unanimous consent request for any requires the approval of all 100 Members. First-term Democratic Members have sought for months to break the nominations stalemate and end the use of secret holds, but in the meantime, the waning weeks leading up to a Congressional recess are the best hope for a pending nomination.

Hoping for such a window to clear some names in the next two weeks, Colorado Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet sought to move the process along for William Joseph Martinez, a district court nominee who hails from their state.

“We can all agree that the Senate must act quickly on this and other pending judicial nominations in order to avoid further strain on our federal court system,” the two wrote in a letter to Democratic and Republican leaders, noting that Martinez was reported out of the Judiciary Committee in April.

Freshman Members are not the only ones hoping for a final push before August. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) issued a statement this week blasting Republicans for stalling judicial nominations.

“They are holding up for no good reason consideration of nominees reported from the Judiciary Committee for weeks and months,” Leahy said in a statement to the Congressional Record.

Whether Martinez or others move before the recess remains unclear, and Senate aides will only say that party leaders will work on the issue as the recess draws closer.

“We’ll have to see how the process moves along as we approach the August break,” one Republican suggested.