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 ReidSenate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Harry Reid knocks Ocasio-Cortez's tax proposal: Fast 'radical change' doesn't work Overnight Defense: Trump rejects Graham call to end shutdown | Coast Guard on track to miss Tuesday paychecks | Dems eye Trump, Russia probes | Trump talks with Erdogan after making threat to Turkey's economy 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 PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party 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 LeahyBuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president GOP insiders knock their depictions in new Dick Cheney biopic ‘Vice’ Barr: It would be a crime for president to pardon someone in exchange for their silence 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 CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science 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 Warren2020 Dems seize on MLK Day for campaign messaging Kamala Harris staffer mocks O'Reilly for saying Harris 'lost' his vote for president Kamala Harris announces presidential campaign MORE (D-Mass.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks 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 ChamblissOssoff tests waters for Georgia Senate run CIA's ‘surveillance state’ is operating against us all Juan Williams: GOP plays the bigotry card in midterms MORE and Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Senators offer measure naming Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi slaying 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 GrassleyCongress should stop tariff power grab, bring balance to U.S. trade policy Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices 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 GoreCybersecurity of our nuclear systems needs to be a top priority Dem introduces bills to eliminate Electoral College, stop presidents from pardoning themselves Al Gore’s right about carbon capture and sequestration 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.