Labor pick is voted down in the Senate

Democratic absences, combined with party centrists joining Republicans, doomed the confirmation of a controversial labor board nominee Tuesday.

The confirmation of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was considered a key priority for the labor movement.

ADVERTISEMENT
But the nominee failed to clear the 60-vote threshold in the Senate to beat back a Republican-led filibuster. Thus Becker, an associate general counsel to both the Service Employees International Union and AFL-CIO, will not advance to a confirmation vote.

Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) joined GOP senators in blocking the nominee, which led to 33 votes against moving forward with Becker’s confirmation and 52 senators voting to move it forward.

That left Becker — first nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009 and nominated again this year — unconfirmed after a strident lobbying campaign against him by business associations.

Also voting against Becker was new Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), in his first major Senate vote. Brown became the 41st Republican senator last week.

Fifteen senators did not vote on Becker, likely due to the record snowfall in the Washington area. That included five potential Becker supporters — Democratic Sens. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other Republican-leaning trade groups opposed Becker’s nomination because they believed that a labor board that included him would institute parts of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a contentious union bill, through executive action. The Chamber scored the vote for Becker on Tuesday, calling his views on labor “outside the mainstream” in a letter to senators.

Unions supported Becker and said the nominee was uniquely qualified to serve on the board. Though relatively obscure, the NLRB is vital to the labor movement since it judges workplace violations and oversees union elections. Becker’s failed confirmation is a loss for unions, which have also seen EFCA gain little traction this congressional session, despite substantial Democratic majorities.

The stalling of Becker and other administration nominees has clearly irked the White House. In a press conference Tuesday, the president said he would consider recess appointments if the Senate would not move forward on his nominees, which could be a path forward for Becker now.

“If the Senate does not act to confirm these nominees, I will consider making several recess appointments during the upcoming recess, because we can't afford to allow politics to stand in the way of a well-functioning government,” Obama said.

In light of Becker not receiving a confirmation vote, the labor movement would support Obama’s push for recess appointments.

“We support President Obama’s expressed willingness to make recess appointments of critical posts in the federal government if that’s what it takes to get around minority delay and obstruction,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, in a statement after Becker’s failed vote.