Nuke agency chief: Allegations that I target women are 'categorically untrue'

The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission strongly denied allegations that he verbally abused female employees of the agency.

“There’s been a little bit of talk recently about my treatment of women,” NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said at a Friday press conference.

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“And I want to begin by saying that any of these allegations that I specifically target women are categorically untrue. And beyond that I don’t really have anything else to say about that issue.”

Jaczko made similar comments during a series of congressional hearings in recent months. But Republicans revived the allegations this week, drawing Jaczko into the political battle over which party is friendlier to female voters.

Friday’s press conference, a rarity for the nuclear power official, came amid a partisan fight over renominating Republican NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki to a second term at the agency. 

Jaczko declined to weigh in on Svinicki’s nomination.

“I will be comfortable working with any member of the commission that makes it through the confirmation process,” he said.

Republicans have alleged that Democrats are holding up the nomination as retribution for Svinicki’s public criticism of Jaczko, a Democrat appointed by President 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.

She has also alleged that Jaczko berated female employees at the agency, claims that were initially revealed in a report released by the commission’s inspector general last year.

Republicans have put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSuicide is not just a veteran problem; it is an American problem The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game Bernie campaign 2.0 - he's in it to win it, this time around MORE (D-Nev.), a vocal opponent of Svinicki’s renomination, to move forward quickly with the confirmation process. They have painted Svinicki as a “whistleblower” who is essential to the operation of the commission.

GOP lawmakers blasted Reid this week for opposing the renomination. They took aim at allegations by a Reid spokesman that Svinicki lied during a 2007 Senate hearing about her work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

Svinicki, at the time, said she did not work directly on Yucca Mountain during her tenure at the Energy Department’s Civilian Radioactive Waste Management Office. But Reid’s office says she did conduct work related to the project.

“Sen. 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.

Jaczko, a former top Reid staffer, said Friday he has not recently discussed Svinicki’s renomination with his old boss.

“I haven’t had any conversations recently with Sen. Reid about any issues,” he said.

The Svinicki nomination is getting tangled up in the “war on women,” a phrase many have been using to paint their political opponents as insensitive toward female voters.

“There is the war on women that isn't real, but that Democrats keep talking about. Then there is the Democratic war on one woman, which says a lot about how that party operates,” Kimberley Strassel, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, wrote Thursday night.

The NRC chairman during Friday's press conference said that the controversy at the agency will not prevent the commission from overseeing the country’s power plants.

“I want to assure you all that none of these issues are a distraction to the agency,” he said, adding later, “My focus has been on safety and will continue to be on safety.”

Asked why he called the press conference, Jaczko joked, "I didn’t have a lot on my schedule this afternoon. I don’t play golf."