Senate Leaders Broker Deal on Dozens of Nominees

Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:00pm

A freeze on Senate consideration of executive branch nominations thawed today when the chamber agreed to confirm dozens of nominees and the White House agreed not to make recess appointments during the April break.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared on the Senate floor after most Senators had departed for a two-week recess to announce the agreement to allow confirmation of more than 70 of President Barack Obama’s nominees to positions in an assortment of federal departments and agencies.

“This is the result of a successful discussion among the Majority Leader, the White House and myself,” McConnell said. “Based on the White House’s assurance that there will be no recess appointments during the upcoming adjournment, I will not be objecting.”

Reid signaled his agreement that the Senate should be able to work through nominees in this fashion.

The nominees confirmed today will fill vacancies in many parts of the federal government.

Rebecca M. Blank was confirmed as deputy secretary at the Commerce Department. She had been named to that role in an acting capacity in November 2010 and served as acting secretary between the terms of Gary Locke and John Bryson.

The list of nominees confirmed also includes two inspectors general.

Michael E. Horowitz was confirmed as inspector general at the Justice Department, with Christy L. Romero confirmed to head the inspector general’s office for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The Senate also confirmed Obama’s picks for several ambassadorships, including choices to represent the United States in two North African countries that saw great changes last year. John Christopher Stevens will be U.S. ambassador to Libya, while Jacob Walles will be the top U.S. diplomat in Tunisia.

The Senate today also adopted by unanimous consent a formal adjournment resolution that would allow the chamber to avoid holding brief “pro forma” sessions where no legislative business is conducted. The sessions have become a customary way of expressing opposition to recess appointments.

The Republican-led House would need to agree with the adjournment measure in order to prevent the pro formas, but that would seem possible because it has the support of McConnell.

The standoff began in December when McConnell announced that he would object after Reid had read a similar list of nominations on the Senate floor. At that time, he had not received assurances that the White House would honor what he called the usual “practice and precedent” with respect to recess appointments.

That was one of the first signs that Obama might seek to use his recess appointment power to install nominees into executive branch positions during the holiday break.

Obama ultimately used the power to put Richard Cordray in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and to fill three seats on the National Labor Relations Board.