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April 21, 2014

Posts in "Nominations"

April 14, 2014

‘Nuclear’ Nominations Aftermath Slows Senate to Crawl

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( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Just how many of President Barack Obama’s nominees will get confirmed this year? If last week is any indication, the answer may depend on whether Democrats once again employ the “nuclear” option to effectively change the Senate’s rules.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a big deal last week about scheduling nomination votes on the Friday before recess, but with senators in both parties eager to jet out of town, the Nevada Democrat was forced to punt.

“We are slogging through these nominations,” Reid said April 10 on the Senate floor. “It is kind of slow because of the inordinate amount of time that we are caused to eat up.”

Reid pondered on the floor whether he should have gone even further on rules changes last year, given the Republican slow-walking of nominations whose confirmations have become a fait accompli, and he lamented that a minimum wage debate he hoped to have on the Senate floor before the break was delayed as a result. Full story

April 11, 2014

Senate Switcheroo Crimps Travel Plans

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Thursday night’s unplanned — but predictable — shift in the Senate’s vote schedule meddled with plans of senators who actually planned to show up for work Friday.

While it’s not clear how many Republicans planned to be at the Capitol had votes gone forward late Friday, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee certainly did.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa drove himself back to the Capitol complex at around 8:30 p.m., on Thursday.

Standing outside the Dirksen building, Grassley said he had returned to pick up materials for his trip back to Iowa for the two-week recess, having expected to be in Washington until after a series of nomination votes that were slated to start at 5 p.m. Friday.

“I was going to come back to the office and vote and fly out tomorrow night. Now, I’ve got to come back to the office and get the stuff I left here,” Grassley said.

Full story

Burwell Should Expect Tough Questions, Easy Confirmation

484062777 445x304 Burwell Should Expect Tough Questions, Easy Confirmation

(Via AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama said Friday he assumes the Senate will easily confirm Sylvia Matthews Burwell to replace Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of Health and Human Services — and he’s almost certainly right.

But that doesn’t mean Republicans aren’t relishing the idea of re-litigating the health care law once again under the bright lights of a nomination hearing.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, promised a “fair and thorough vetting process” and already signaled the Affordable Care Act will be his target, calling it “an unmitigated disaster.” Full story

April 10, 2014

Sebelius Resigning; Burwell to Take Place

Senate Finance Committee 25 110613 223x335 Sebelius Resigning; Burwell to Take Place

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 8:37 p.m. | Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning and President Barack Obama will replace her with OMB Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell.

Sebelius’s resignation comes on a relatively high note, with the White House trumpeting a late surge in initial signups for the Affordable Care Act exchanges — topping 7.5 million just today. But she was deeply damaged by the disastrous initial rollout of the Healthcare.gov website last year, and there had been speculation on how long she would last as a result.

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Sebelius was cheered during a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 30, 2013, the day before the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Health and Human Services released a statement on her decision to resign:

From her work on Head Start, to expanding mental health coverage, to advancing cutting-edge health care research and, of course, her unwavering leadership in implementing the Affordable Care Act, Secretary Sebelius often calls her work here the most meaningful of her life. As she closes this chapter, Secretary Sebelius is extremely thankful to President Obama and very proud of the historic accomplishments of this Administration.

Burwell, who has already cleared one Senate confirmation process, will have to clear another, although in a post-nuclear-option Senate, Republicans do not have the ability to block her nomination. That might have been different if Sebelius had waited until next year, should Republicans take back control of the chamber. Full story

Reid: Recess Won’t Start Until After Judicial Nomination Vote

reid031114 445x298 Reid: Recess Wont Start Until After Judicial Nomination Vote

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in no mood to delay a scheduled confirmation vote for a Ninth Circuit judicial nominee — warning he’ll keep the Senate in session Friday if Republicans don’t consent to an earlier vote.

“We’re not punting,” the Nevada Democrat told CQ Roll Call when asked if the confirmation vote on President Barack Obama’s choice of Michelle T. Friedland for a seat on the Ninth Circuit would be put off until after the two-week recess.

The Senate voted, 56-41, to invoke cloture and thus limit debate on that nomination earlier Thursday, with Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joining Democratic caucus members in voting for cloture.

Full story

April 8, 2014

Leahy Defends Senators’ Role in Vetting Judges in Their States

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(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy has again come to the defense of allowing home-state senators to block the nominations of federal judges in their states, even when the senators are Republicans.

The Vermont Democrat penned an opinion piece for Sunday’s Rutland Herald after the newspaper picked up a New York Times editorial calling for the end of the “blue slip” consent process under which the Judiciary Committee declines to move forward with nominees for the federal bench until the home state senators sign off.

“The blue slip is just a piece of paper and could be eliminated today, but that would not change the importance of home state senators’ support for confirming judicial nominees to the states they represent. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I have worked tirelessly to get judicial nominees confirmed. I cannot recall a single judicial nominee being confirmed over the objection of his or her home state senators,” Leahy wrote. ”The blue slip process reflects this reality, and those who care about the courts and who want qualified judges confirmed should not overlook this fact.”

Full story

March 13, 2014

Amid Spying Debate, Senate Confirms Top CIA Lawyer

The Senate granted swift confirmation to a new CIA general counsel Thursday, in effect taking authority from an official now known to have ties to the agency’s past detention and interrogation program.

Caroline Krass will take over for an acting official, reportedly named Robert Eatinger, who Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., revealed in a floor speech Tuesday — though not by name — had referred a matter to the Justice Department involving Senate staff actions in the probe of CIA interrogations.

It’s the acting general counsel’s action that seems to have precipitated Feinstein’s acknowledgement of alleged improper spying on the committee’s files by the CIA.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who has previously signaled an intent to delay the Krass confirmation while seeking answers from the CIA, explained Thursday the hold was lifted to get a new leader in the post. The confirmation vote was 95 to 4. Full story

March 10, 2014

Next Nasty Nomination Fight for Obama: Michael Boggs on the Hot Seat

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Scott hopes to spoil Boggs’ nomination. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images File Photo)

After Republicans and seven Democratic defectors teamed up to sink the president’s pick to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division last week, some of the president’s allies are redoubling their efforts to claim a scalp of their own: Michael P. Boggs, a nominee for the District Court bench in Georgia.

The scorched-earth campaign led by groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police against Debo P. Adegbile came down to a visceral attack over his participation in the legal defense of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. Boggs’ opponents are painting him in stark terms as well.

“Let’s put it this way, we have no choice but to follow this pattern; it looks like this is the way to go,” said Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., Boggs’ chief opponent. “… We hope to have a winning hand as well.”

On Monday, Scott teamed up with NARAL Pro-Choice America and sent an email to its 500,000 members urging them to call their senators and oppose the Boggs nomination. Full story

March 5, 2014

Democrats Face Perils of Controversial Nominees in ‘Post-Nuclear’ Senate

Not even Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. could convince an in-cycle Senate Democrat from his home state to switch his vote and support embattled Department of Justice nominee Debo P. Adegbile.

In the view of Democratic optimists, Biden had made a rare and impromptu appearance at the Capitol on Wednesday to cast a potential tie-breaking vote for Adegbile. But in reality, Biden served as the last-ditch salesman from the administration, futilely chatting up members such as Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., inside the Senate chamber. Coons was one of seven Democrats to join Republicans to block Adegbile from being the next  assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.

The scene on the floor underscored a new political reality for Senate Democrats. In a “post-nuclear option” world where up-and-down votes now reign, Democrats often will carry the full burden of filling administration posts — and the Republicans will not be afraid to make political gold from tenuous straw to do it.

Full story

Democrats Defect, Sink Obama’s Civil Rights Pick (Updated) (Video)

Updated: 2:17 p.m. | Seven Senate Democrats joined Republicans to block President Barack Obama’s pick of Debo P. Adegbile to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division amid a controversy over his legal defense of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Adegbile’s nomination needed a simple majority to cut off debate but the chamber voted 47-52 against him, with Obama ripping the vote as a “travesty.”

Democrats Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Chris Coons of Delaware, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and John Walsh of Montana all voted no. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also voted no in order to preserve his right to reconsider the vote. If Adegbile had mustered just two more votes plus Reid, Vice President Joseph Biden was on hand to cast a possible tie-breaking vote.

It’s the first presidential pick to be blocked since Democrats changed the Senate’s rules via the “nuclear option” to block filibusters of nominees.

President Barack Obama called the vote “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

Obama said Adegbile had impeccable credentials and “unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law.”

“Mr. Adegbile’s personal story – rising from adversity to become someone who President Bush’s Solicitor General referred to as one of the nation’s most capable litigators – is a story that proves what America has been and can be for people who work hard and play by the rules.  As a lawyer, Mr. Adgebile has played by the rules.  And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him.”

Powerful law enforcement groups and Republicans opposed the nomination, with the Abu-Jamal case at the heart of the controversy.

Obama mentioned the issue but not by name.

“The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice – and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant,” Obama said.

The nomination also has exposed the political risk for Democrats of deploying the nuclear option.

Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.

 

Joe Biden Could Be Tiebreaker for Debo Adegbile Vote

Biden 01 041713 445x315 Joe Biden Could Be Tiebreaker for Debo Adegbile Vote

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has made an appearance at the Capitol for the Senate’s procedural vote on Debo P. Adegbile to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

The vote is expected to be extremely close and could require Biden to vote.

When asked by CQ Roll Call when Biden arrived Wednesday morning if he was there to break a tie, the vice president said, “If I have to.”

 

March 1, 2014

Weather Delays Vote on Contentious DOJ Nominee

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A woman entering Rayburn last week. More snow is forecast (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated, 4:35 p.m. | Weather is once again wreaking havoc on the Senate schedule.

The Senate will delay a contentious Monday evening vote on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Debo P. Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division thanks to an oncoming winter storm.

That nomination has proven particularly contentious due to Adegbile’s involvement in the legal representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted back in 1982 of murdering a Philadelphia police officer.

Senators had been scheduled to hold a cloture vote to limit debate on the nomination. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had also lined up votes on other Obama nominees. Full story

February 28, 2014

Mumia Abu-Jamal Case Reverberates in Senate Nomination Fight

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A protestor stands next to an image of Abu-Jamal in 2012. (AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Debo P. Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has unleashed a decades-old racial feud centered on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal that threatens to cross partisan lines and give credence to Senate Republican worries that more controversial nominees will be confirmed since Democrats eased the process last year.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on cloture on the Adegbile nomination Monday evening. Adegbile, senior counsel for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., previously worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which helped commute the death sentence of Abu-Jamal, a black nationalist who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of white Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Senate Democrats control 55 votes in the Senate and only need 51 to clear the hurdle. But it is likely to be close, as one of their own, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania announced Friday he would oppose the nomination, and several Democrats up for re-election in swing or conservative states might think twice about wading into the hornets’ nest that surrounds Abu-Jamal.

The case goes back to a dark period in Philadelphia history, when the MOVE group of black separatists clashed frequently with the Philadelphia political and law enforcement community.   Full story

January 13, 2014

Recess Appointment Debate Unlikely to End at Supreme Court

courts002 011314 445x300 Recess Appointment Debate Unlikely to End at Supreme Court

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Even a Supreme Court opinion throwing out President Barack Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board wouldn’t end the debate.

Justices from across the ideological spectrum seemed to have doubts during oral arguments Monday about the administration’s arguments, with the president’s power to get around Senate roadblocks to name his own team at stake.

The administration argued that the recess appointments were valid because the Senate’s practice of holding pro forma sessions every three days without conducting business was no different than being out of town.

An exchange between Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. and Justice Elena Kagan put the argument into relief.

Kagan asked Verrilli if the Senate could convene for unanimous consent requests to name post offices and conduct “trivial business” to avoid the argument over the pro forma sessions.

“I think if they did business each of the three days, then you wouldn’t have a situation in which no business was conducted and you wouldn’t meet the definition of a recess, but that’s a different case than this one,” Verrilli said.

Kagan replied that if the rule defining what constitutes a recess would be “so easy to evade, [it] suggests that this really is — the question of how to define a recess really does belong to the Senate.”

“I think the problem with looking at it that way, Justice Kagan, is that that’s the end of the recess appointment power,” Verrilli said. “You write it out of the Constitution, if you look at it that way, because all the Senate needs to do is stay in pro forma session until 11:59 a.m. on January 3rd when that term ends and the next term starts and then there are no intercession recesses.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to share Kagan’s thinking.

“The Senate, I think to be candid, the Senate is always available. They can be called back on very short notice. So what is it that’s the constitutional flaw here?” Ginsburg said, questioning Verrilli. “It isn’t … that the Senate isn’t available. The Senate is available. It can easily be convened.”

Even if the Supreme Court decides it is within the Senate’s power to determine when it is in session, the president might still have a way to force through recess appointments. That would rely, however, on an untested constitutional provision that would appear to allow a president to force Congress to go home.

None other than Miguel Estrada, appearing as counsel representing the interests of Senate Republicans during the unusually long oral argument session Monday, raised that possibility. Estrada’s own nomination to the federal appellate bench was famously upended by opposition from Democrats.

“If the Senate had any view that it wanted to recess, they could have had a vote, and the issue would have ended up in the White House, in the lap of the president,” Estrada said. “He had plenary constitutional power to give himself an intersession recess by terminating the session and have a real recess appointment power if he could find somebody whose vacancy had actually arisen at the time.”

The same section of the Constitution that provides for the president to update Congress on the state of the union and to recall Congress into session to attend to urgent business also allows for forced adjournment when the two chambers fail to reach consensus on adjourning.

“In Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper,” the Constitution states in part of Article II, Section III. Estrada wasn’t backing such a maneuver, but he certainly suggested it was a possibility.

A senior Senate Democratic aide said “it would be unlikely that Democrats would need to go down that road, given” that they have sought to ease the nominations process by lowering the threshold for overcoming a filibuster.

“This is the cockeyed way of going about the instruments of the Constitution. There is no power in the Constitution to use the Recess Appointments Clause to overcome the opposition of the Senate to the president’s nominees. And for all that we hear about today, which has to do with how the heaven will fall, and the parade of horribles, there is no parade, and there is no horrible,” Estrada argued.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was one of several GOP senators in the chamber for the oral arguments.

“The Court today was rightly skeptical of the Solicitor General’s inconsistent argument that the Senate is in session if the President wants it to pass legislation he supports, but the Senate is not in session if he wants to circumvent the advice and consent requirement of the Constitution,” McConnell said in a statement.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said attending the arguments was like being a “kid in a candy store.”

“All three of the arguing counsel today had an enormously powerful command of the history of the exercise of the recess appointment power,” Lee said. “It was very interesting to hear how it had been viewed by the first few presidents, how it’s been exercised over the 225 years or so since the Constitution’s been in effect.”

Lee was optimistic about the chances for victory, suggesting the possibility of a unanimous decision backing the brief pro forma sessions, with closer rulings on other key questions.

During the argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor elicited laughter for musing about the Senate’s work schedule.

“The Senate could choose, if it wanted to, and I think there might be some citizens that would encourage it to, to never recess,” Sotomayor said. “And to work every day, which … lots of people do.”

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

GOP Expects Supreme Court Victory Over Obama on Recess Appointments

Republican senators left the Supreme Court on Monday optimistic that the justices would rule that President Barack Obama ran afoul of the Constitution in making recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the matter of NLRB v. Noel Canning, which questions the validity of recess appointments made by Obama during a time when the Senate was at least ostensibly in session, gaveling in and out every three days. Several GOP senators were in town early for the arguments, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. McConnell’s campaign has also promoted the legal effort.

While the Supreme Court can be difficult to read based on questions during oral argument, there seemed to be support among justices for the idea that the Senate may determine what constitutes a “session” and a “recess.”

Full story

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