President’s nominees face do-or-die moment as Congress sets to adjourn

President’s nominees face do-or-die moment as Congress sets to adjourn
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Anxiety is mounting among advocacy groups over the fates of dozens of executive and judicial branch nominees who remain in Senate limbo as the 113th Congress gets ready to close up shop.

With Republicans poised to take control of the chamber in January, many see the next several days as the last, best chance to approve President Obama’s choices. Any nominee who isn’t approved before the end of this Congress would have to be renominated in 2015.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum The Trumpification of the federal courts Trump to rally evangelicals after critical Christianity Today editorial MORE (D-Nev.) has pledged to confirm Vivek Murthy to serve as the next surgeon general despite strong opposition from the National Rifle Association.

Murthy’s beleaguered nomination gained new life in recent days after red-state Democrats such as Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Medicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation MORE (Ark.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats cry foul over Schiff backlash Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Nadler gets under GOP's skin MORE (Mont.) announced their backing.

Reid has steadily churned through nominees this year, taking advantage of the rule change Democrats made last year that lowered the threshold from 60 votes to a simple majority for most positions. But 172 nominations were still pending on the executive calendar Wednesday, including nine district court nominees and 18 State Department picks. 

A Senate Democratic aide said there is a backlog of court vacancies because Republicans have flouted the long-standing Senate precedent of clearing nominations before the end of each year.

“Rather than working in a bipartisan fashion to confirm consensus nominees to fill judgeships as we wind down for the year, Senate Republicans have deliberately refused to agree to vote on consensus nominees who could and should be confirmed without delay,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Senators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses Lawmaker wants Chinese news outlet to register as foreign agent MORE (D-Vt.) said in December of last year.

Reid is threatening to keep the Senate in session as long as necessary.

“You know, maybe we’ll have to work the weekend and maybe even work next week,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve given a list to the Republicans and it’s up to them to decide how long we stay.”

Reid’s top priorities include Obama’s picks to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Social Security Administration and the nine pending federal judges.

• Obama has tapped Sarah Saldaña, a Dallas-based attorney, to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month moved her nomination to the floor, where she faces opposition from Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzRepublicans show little enthusiasm for impeachment witness swap Texas House special election to gauge suburban mood Texas Democrats roll out plan to win state House in November MORE (R-Texas), who called her a “rubber stamp for amnesty.”

• Republicans have pledged to block Carolyn Colvin, Obama’s choice to head the Social Security Administration, because of concerns about her record as acting commissioner. Critics are focused on a faulty $300 million computer project at the agency.

Liberal groups say the Senate should confirm all of the district court nominees on the executive calendar as well as three still pending in the Judiciary Committee.

“We want to make sure all the judicial nominees who are ready to go get through before the end of the year,” said Michelle Schwartz, director of justice programs at the Alliance for Justice.

She pointed out that most of the nominees were approved in committee by voice vote and have the support of both home-state senators.

Robert Pitman, a nominee to the District Court for the Western District of Texas, is the first openly gay judicial nominee in Texas and would be the first such nominee in any state represented by two Republican senators.

Amit Mehta, a nominee to the D.C. District Court, would be the first Asian Pacific-American to serve on that court and would add professional diversity as a former public defender.

Haywood Gilliam is Obama’s pick to serve on the court for the Northern District of California. Supporters say he would increase the number of African-Americans on that court.

Loretta Biggs, a judicial nominee to the Middle District of North Carolina, would be the first African-American female federal judge in North Carolina. Her nomination has yet to be approved by the Judiciary Committee.

Elizabeth Dillon, a nominee to the Western District of Virginia, would be the first woman to serve as a judge on that court. She also awaits a vote in committee. 

“We would love to see all of the ones pending confirmed. If that’s not going to happen, we’d like to see the judges confirmed that Sen. Reid has prioritized,” said Shane Larson, legislative director of the Communications Workers of America.

Some nominees have run into staunch opposition and will probably not be confirmed.

• Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Dershowitz presentation 'nonsensical,' 'could not follow it' On The Money: Stocks close with steep losses driven by coronavirus fears | Tax season could bring more refund confusion | Trump's new wins for farmers may not undo trade damage Overnight Energy: Sanders scores highest on green group's voter guide | Trump's latest wins for farmers may not undo trade damage | Amazon employees defy company to speak on climate change MORE (D-Mass.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Report of Bolton tell-all manuscript roils Trump defense Democrats Manchin, Jones signal they're undecided on Trump removal vote Schiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line MORE (D-W.Va.), representing both ends of the Democratic ideological spectrum, have lined up against Antonio Weiss, Obama’s selection to serve as Treasury undersecretary for Domestic Finance. Democrats have balked at his employment at Lazard, an investment banking firm.

Michael Boggs, whom Obama nominated to the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, stalled after getting strong pushback from the Congressional Black Caucus. The president picked him as part of a package deal with Georgia Republican Sens. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Republicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' MORE and Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonCollins expected to announce Georgia Senate bid GOP senator: Romney trying to 'appease the left' with impeachment witnesses Overnight Health Care: New drug price hikes set stage for 2020 fight | Conservative group to spend M attacking Pelosi drug plan | Study finds Medicaid expansion improved health in Southern states MORE. Black lawmakers objected to his past support for keeping the Confederate emblem on the Georgia flag. Leahy said in September that Boggs doesn’t have the votes.

Michelle Lee, Obama’s choice to lead the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, will likely have to wait until next year. Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTax season could bring more refund confusion Graham vows Biden, Ukraine probe after impeachment trial Social security emerges as latest flash point in Biden-Sanders tussle MORE (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said at a hearing on Lee Wednesday that “everybody in the room today, including the nominees, understand that there isn’t enough time for these for these nominations to be confirmed before we adjourn.”

Labor and liberal advocacy groups are pressing Senate Democrats to move several long-delayed nominees.

• The Communications Workers of America wants to see Richard Engler finally confirmed to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. Obama first announced his nomination two years ago.

• The Fix the Senate Now coalition issued a statement Wednesday calling on Senate Democrats to confirm nominees to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) before adjourning. The commission was created in 2002 to avoid election mishaps that led to the controversial Florida recount two years earlier that awarded the presidency to George W. Bush over Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreTrump's reelection looks more like a long shot than a slam dunk Gore praises Greta Thunberg after meeting: 'Nobody speaks truth to power as she does' Climate 'religion' is fueling Australia's wildfires MORE. The agency does not have a single commissioner in place, denying it the quorum it needs to make policy decisions.

Thomas Hicks, one of the pending nominees, was first tapped by Obama in April of 2010.

“What we are really going into overdrive over are the Election Assistance Commission nominees because the EAC has not had a single commissioner since 2011,” said Stephen Spaulding, policy counsel at Common Cause. “It has been totally paralyzed and subject to the dysfunction on Capitol Hill.”

Spaulding warned of “an impending crisis in voting technology” because many voting machines are worn out.

 

Mario Trujillo contributed.