The nominees Obama wants most

Senate Democrats have gutted the filibuster, but that doesn’t mean President Obama’s 240 judicial and executive branch nominees will now sail to confirmation.

Republicans outraged over what they say was a power grab by Democrats have signaled they intend to make it difficult to clear most of the president’s nominees.

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While only 51 votes are needed to end debate on a nominee, rules still require 30 hours of debate once cloture is invoked.

That means hours of precious Senate floor time that leaders also want to use for other issues.

Nonetheless, allies of the White House predict a “good chunk” of their priority nominees will clear before the Senate concludes its final two weeks of work in 2013.

Here are the nominations Obama wants the most.

Janet Yellen
 
The president’s nominee to lead the Federal Reserve is arguably the top priority for the White House.

Yellen sailed through her nomination hearing, winning support from three Senate Banking Committee Republicans.

Her confirmation is not really in doubt, though some senators expressed concern about the $85 billion in monthly stimulus that the Fed has been pumping into the U.S. economy. Yellen is expected to continue those efforts, though a “tapering” of the bond-buying is expected.

Bernanke’s term ends on Jan. 31, and there will be pressure on both Republicans and Democrats to ensure a seamless transition when his four-year term ends. 

“With the state of the economy, recovery should be a no-brainer and lawmakers, no matter their political affiliation, should want Yellen aboard as soon as possible,” said one former senior administration official, adding, “I just don’t see her being a problem.”
 
Mel Watt
 
The 11-term North Carolina Democrat faced difficult odds at clearing the Senate before the new rules came into play.
Nominated to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Watt would be tasked with the massive job of overseeing an overhaul of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Republicans aren’t likely to make it easy for Senate Democrats to confirm Watt. He won the support of only two Republicans in his first confirmation effort, before the controversial filibuster change.

The confirmation is important to the White House for a few reasons.

The Congressional Black Caucus strongly backs Watt and had accused the White House of not doing enough to win his confirmation.

Seeing him confirmed would be a victory for the CBC.

The White House also wants someone in charge of the FHFA quickly to handle fixes to the mortgage finance system.

Jeh Johnson
 
The nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security has among the best chances of clearing the Senate despite ill feelings over the filibuster.

He’s won support from Republicans like conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.).

“When we see quality people in quality positions, it shouldn’t matter what party they’re in,” Coburn said at Johnson’s confirmation hearing last month. “We should take advantage of what they’ve learned and their leadership.”

But Johnson’s nomination has been held up by two senators: Republicans John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.).

McCain has insisted that he needs more information from Johnson about border security. And Graham has said he would block Johnson’s nomination in an effort to get survivors of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, last year to testify.

A former senior administration official was optimistic Johncon could be confirmed by the end of the year, however, saying the White House would likely give the two senators something that “will placate them.”

Sarah Bloom Raskin

Raskin has been tapped by the president to become the first woman to hold the powerful No. 2 spot at the Treasury Department.

Her duties would include implementing the Dodd-Frank overhaul of the financial system, which she has worked on as a Fed governor.

That portfolio might not put Republicans opposed to the financial overhaul in a rush to confirm her, though Senate Finance Committee ranking member Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he would back her nomination and hope to move it along quickly to the Senate floor.

Raskin is known for her criticism of banks and her advocacy for consumers.

She pushed to improve a $25 billion mortgage settlement inked early this year by arguing that borrowers were not being adequately compensated for the bad behavior of mortgage servicers.

Judges Robert Wilkins, Cornelia Pillard and Patricia Millett
 
These three nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals were the trigger for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision to use the so-called nuclear option to change Senate rules on the filibuster with a majority vote.

The D.C. court is considered the nation’s second most important — and the gutting of the filibuster gives Obama a chance to tilt it to the left.

Getting all three nominees through the Senate by the end of the year is likely a tall order.

One former senior administration official said that the judges will be confirmed, “but with some blood on the wall.”

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