Senate

Senate GOP absences snag Trump nominees

The Senate blocked two nominations during a rare Saturday session after GOP absences left Republicans unable to confirm President Trump's picks. 

The Senate rejected both Eric Soskin's nomination to be the Department of Transportation inspector general (IG) and John Johnson's nomination to be the IG for the Federal Communications Commission.

The two nominations failed to get the majority needed to overcome an initial procedural hurdle in back-to-back 39-48 votes.  

The setbacks came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) teed up seven nominations - one of which was cleared on Friday - for the weekend session as coronavirus talks drag on. 

But 13 senators - 12 Republicans and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a California Democrat - missed Saturday's votes, leaving GOP leadership unable to reach the simple majority required to confirm nominations in the face of Democratic opposition. 

"We don't have 12 Republicans here, so we're going to lose all these votes. ... All I can say is I hope they're having a good weekend," Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told reporters

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) noted that while some of the cloture votes are failing, others scheduled on Saturday, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) nominations, could pass.

Despite the GOP absences, the Senate did confirm its first nomination of the day: Thompson Dietz to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

"There's another cloture vote that may fail, and then there's some TVA votes that may pass," Wicker said. 

He added that Johnson's nomination was approved in committee unanimously, "but that was a different time." 

The GOP-controlled Senate has rarely rejected Trump's nominees, and Republicans have continued to hold confirmation votes, including for lifetime judicial appointments, following Trump's election loss. 

McConnell previously warned senators to expect to be in session through the weekend.

On Saturday, the GOP leader changed his votes to "no" on the failed nominations, a procedural move that allows him to bring up the picks again in the future. 

Wicker said he was huddling with senators on the floor about the votes. 

There "was a discussion about some nomination votes that are going to go down today because we have 12 absences, so we'll have to do motions to reconsider and try to resurrect them," he said. 

The Senate is holding a rare weekend session as leadership tries to lock in a sweeping year-end package that would tie $900 billion in coronavirus relief to a $1.4 trillion bill to fund the government. 

Leadership is hoping to reach a deal and file text by early Saturday evening, allowing for votes in the House on Sunday and the Senate acting by early next week. 

But senators are still haggling over a provision by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to codify the end of an emergency federal lending facility created under the March CARES Act. The language would also prevent the incoming Biden administration from recreating a similar program. 

Democrats argue how it is drafted would also take emergency powers away from the Federal Reserve that were in place before the CARES Act. Republicans argue that isn't the intent of the provision. 

Senators on Saturday could be seen in intense negotiations on the floor during the votes on the nominations trying to resolve the issue as time ticked down. 

"It looks like they're both going to go back and draft their proposals. But it sounds like both sides are trying to get where they need to go," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). 

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