By Andrew Restuccia - 04/19/12 06:30 PM EDT
President Obama’s decision to re-nominate Republican Kristine Svinicki to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission puts him at odds with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a vocal critic of the nuclear official.
Reid stressed his opposition to Svinicki's re-nomination at a press conference Thursday and did not say whether he'd allow a floor vote on the nomination.
"[T]hat's why we have a Congress, and there'll be hearings held, and we'll approach that when we have to. That's just not right now," he said, pointing to Sen. Dean Heller’s
(R-Nev.) opposition to the nomination.
Reid’s office alleged this week that Svinicki lied to Congress about her previous work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, a long-delayed project that the majority leader strongly opposes.
“Senator Reid opposes Commissioner Svinicki’s re-nomination because she lied to Congress about her past work on Yucca Mountain,” Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said in a statement.
“Furthermore, Commissioner Svinicki has an abysmal record on nuclear safety, demonstrating that she puts the interests of the nuclear industry ahead of the safety of American citizens. Senator Reid has consistently supported qualified Republicans for the commission and is open to supporting others, but Commissioner Svinicki has disqualified herself and does not deserve to be re-nominated.”
A White House official told The Hill earlier Thursday that Obama intends to re-nominate Svinicki, whose first term expires June 30. White House press secretary Jay Carney later confirmed the news.
"The president believes that we need to have an NRC that's functioning effectively," Carney said during his daily briefing.
"And that is why, as I think has now been made clear in the media, the president will renominate Ms. Svinicki, because he doesn't want to have a break in service in June when her current term expires."
Asked whether the White House informed Reid of the decision before announcing it, Carney said, "Well, we communicate with the Senate majority leader all the time. So I would assume that the answer to that is yes."
Republicans pounced Thursday on the allegations by Reid's office that Svinicki lied. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) called on Reid to apologize for his spokesman’s “false and uncivil” comments about Svinicki.
“Senator Reid is wrong to engage in a bullying smear campaign against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s only female commissioner in what is clearly an effort to retaliate against her decision to speak up for the agency’s employees,” she said in a statement.
After news broke that Obama would re-nominate Svinicki, Republicans immediately began putting pressure on Reid to quickly move forward with the confirmation process
“We should not allow a good person who does good things to be blocked,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters in the Capitol, adding, “What you’re seeing is a level of retribution.”
Republicans had alleged Wednesday that Obama was holding up her re-nomination because she has publicly criticized NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, a Democrat and former Reid staffer appointed by Obama to lead the commission.
Svinicki and three of her colleagues, including two Democrats, wrote a letter to the White House last year alleging that Jaczko is causing “serious damage” to the agency that could harm the body’s ability to protect health and safety.
The letter was released publicly shortly after an NRC inspector general report exposed major tensions within the agency. The report quoted anonymous NRC staffers who alleged that Jaczko created a tense atmosphere at the agency and, in some instances, berated employees.
Svinicki also initially raised concerns about Jaczko’s timeline for implementing new safety rules put forward in the aftermath of the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Reid’s office alleges that Svinicki lied during a 2007 Senate hearing about her work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.
Svinicki, at the time, said she did not work directly on Yucca Mountain during her tenure at the Energy Department’s Civilian Radioactive Waste Management Office. But Reid’s office says she did in fact conduct work related to the project.
This story was updated at 3:48 p.m.