Obama re-nominates Republican official to nuclear commission

President Obama officially re-nominated Republican Kristine Svinicki to a second term on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday.

The White House sent the nomination to the Senate, putting Svinicki's future on the commission in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a vocal critic of the nuclear official.

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Republicans immediately put pressure on Democrats to green-light Svinicki's nomination, but the path forward remains unclear. Top Senate Democrats declined to say earlier Tuesday when the chamber would vote on the nomination. Svinicki’s first term expires June 30.

“I’ll announce it when I’m ready to deal with that issue,” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told The Hill Tuesday in the Capitol. “I don’t have any plan at this time.”

Boxer’s committee has jurisdiction over the NRC and would have to vote on the nomination before it could come up for a floor vote.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the committee, and other GOP lawmakers pressed Boxer Tuesday to “proceed expeditiously with the confirmation process.”

“Allowing politics to impede the confirmation process of a distinguished member of the Commission is not only undesirable, but it is an evasion of our constitutionally mandated duties,” the Republican lawmakers wrote in a letter to Boxer, adding that allowing Svinicki’s term to expire would “create an unenviable void in critical nuclear safety knowledge on the Commission.”

Reid declined to say Tuesday when he expects a floor vote on the nomination when pressed by The Hill.

“It’s not here yet,” he said in the Capitol before the White House officially announced the re-nomination. The White House said last month that Obama intended to re-nominate Svinicki.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called on Reid Tuesday to "act quickly" on the nomination.

Reid’s office alleged last month 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 at the time.

Republicans, who have been pressuring the Senate to quickly approve Svinicki’s nomination, pounced on the remarks.

“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,” Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) said last month, calling on Reid to apologize.

Svinicki has publicly clashed with 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.

Jaczko, for his part, has insisted that the allegations that he targeted women at the agency “are categorically untrue.

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.