Senate OKs 7 Obama picks, but Cornyn blocks Clinton

The Senate on Tuesday granted quick and unanimous approval for seven agency nominees in the Obama administration, about half of a longer wish list that Democratic leaders had circulated Monday.

Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) was one of the seven appointments confirmed by unanimous consent. He will serve as Obama’s secretary of the Department of the Interior.

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Senators also approved Energy Secretary nominee Steven Chu, Education Secretary nominee Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary nominee Janet Napolitano, Office of Management and Budget Director nominee Peter Orszag, Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack and Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Eric Shinseki.

The approvals were about half of a list of 15 names that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had circulated Monday to ascertain GOP objections. Their approval was likely since little controversy had arisen over their appointments.

Salazar and Napolitano, for example, told The Hill that they were unaware of any GOP opposition to them.

Reid also announced Tuesday that the Senate will vote at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) nomination as secretary of State.

Obama hoped to have Clinton confirmed on Tuesday, but the New York Democrat’s nomination was blocked by National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas). He cited conflict-of-interest concerns over President Bill Clinton’s foundation.

Cornyn issued a statement Tuesday that said, “Important questions remain unanswered concerning the Clinton Foundation and its acceptance of donations from foreign entities.

“Transparency transcends partisan politics and the American people deserve to know more,” Cornyn said.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) cited the same reason when he also opposed Clinton’s nomination when it came before the Foreign Relations Committee last week.

Speaking on the floor about the successful confirmations, Reid said they would help Obama develop his legislative strategy and begin working with the Senate as soon as possible.

“President Obama has nominated a Cabinet of exceptionally bright and capable people. They represent a cross section of our country, geographically and politically,” Reid said. “It is up to us, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, to confirm these worthy nominees quickly so that they, along with our new president, can hit the ground running.”

The list Reid circulated Monday also included would-be Attorney General Eric Holder. His nomination has been more controversial because of his role in the Marc Rich pardon case, although a couple Republicans have announced they will support him and he seems likely to be confirmed.

Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), Obama’s pick for Labor secretary, was also on the list.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who goes before the Finance Committee for a 10 a.m. hearing Wednesday, is certain to face questions over his personal tax delinquency that was announced last week. Still, several Republicans offered support for Geithner when the tax story broke last week, suggesting he is likely to win confirmation.