FEC regains authorities after Senate confirms Trump nominee as commissioner

Greg Nash

The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Texas attorney Trey Trainor to serve on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), giving the agency the quorum it needs to conduct business for the first time since August.

Trainor, who was an adviser on President Trump’s 2016 campaign, was confirmed 49-43 along party lines, with eight senators not voting. He received strong Democratic pushback due to his record on campaign finance and concerns over a lack of bipartisanship during the nomination process. 

The FEC has lacked the required four commissioners to conduct business and issue opinions since former Commissioner Matthew Petersen stepped down in August, leaving the agency largely powerless in the run-up to a presidential election. The period without quorum was the longest in the agency’s history. 

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), whose panel approved Trainor’s nomination along party lines earlier this month, said Tuesday that he was pleased the Senate had “worked through all the obstacles” involved in Trainor’s nomination and would be able to get the FEC “back in business.”

Trainor’s confirmation still leaves two vacancies at the FEC, which should have six commissioners. The other three current commissioners include one Democrat, one Republican and one Independent. 

FEC Chairwoman Caroline Hunter (R) told The Hill that any concerns over the FEC becoming deadlocked by the addition of another Republican were unfounded.

“Some members of Congress and the speech regulators lament the notion that there may be deadlocks at the commission; however, the commission is structured by statute to require a bipartisan vote for all major actions,” Hunter said.

FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub (D) told The Hill in a separate statement that “the FEC needs to have a quorum, and I hope to have a constructive working relationship with Trey.”

“We have a lot of work ahead of us — 350 matters on our enforcement docket and 227 items waiting for Commission action,” Weintraub added. “I am ready to roll up my sleeves and work with all my colleagues to get the important work of this agency done.”

Democrats have pushed back against Trainor’s nomination, citing concerns over his views on campaign finance and the fact that he was not confirmed at the same time as a Democrat, as is traditionally the case for FEC commissioners. 

During his nomination hearing before the Senate Rules Committee in March, Trainor was pressed by Democrats on whether he would recuse himself from FEC cases involving President Trump. Trainor said he would not accept a “blanket recusal” if confirmed.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the Rules panel, “strongly urged” senators to vote against Trainor’s nomination during a Senate floor speech ahead of the vote, pointing to concerns that the Senate was not voting on a Democratic FEC nominee as well. 

“The FEC has been plagued by partisan gridlock for years,” Klobuchar said. “With the general election only 168 days away, we should be working together to make sure that the agency is working to the fullest extent possible. Americans are tired of hyperpartisanship and gridlock.”

House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), whose panel has jurisdiction over elections, also criticized Trainor’s confirmation and “urged” Trump to put forward nominees for the two remaining vacant FEC commissioner posts. 

“With only four-out-of-six seats filled, a unanimous vote will be required to approve Commission decisions on enforcement matters, Advisory Opinions, rulemakings, and other matters,” Lofgren said in a statement. “A single recusal could prohibit a matter from full Commission action. This is unacceptable in the middle of the 2020 election cycle.”

Updated at 6:30 p.m. 

Tags Amy Klobuchar Donald Trump Roy Blunt Zoe Lofgren

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