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Senators seek to avoid confirmation fight for Obama's library nominee

Senators seek to avoid confirmation fight for Obama's library nominee
© White House

Senators in both parties are hoping a high-profile nomination to lead the Library of Congress does not get bogged down in the broader confirmation fight ahead of the 2016 elections. 

The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday held a largely laudatory nomination hearing for Dr. Carla Hayden, who could become the first female or African-American Librarian of Congress. She is also the first new nominee in decades.  

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"I think this nomination is on a separate track," Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThune: 'There are Republicans who would vote' for smaller infrastructure package Republicans can't handle the truth about taxes Sunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge MORE (R-Mo.) told reporters when asked whether her confirmation could suffer from the broader confirmation fight in the Senate. 

Senate Republicans have declined to hold confirmation hearings for President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and have ruled out bringing up a vote ahead of the election. But Blunt brushed off any comparison between a 10-year appointment to the Library of Congress and a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. 

"Surely no one asks seriously how this is different than the lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court," he said. 

Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerNY Times beclowns itself by normalizing court-packing 'to balance the conservative majority' The first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally H.R. 1/S. 1: Democrats defend their majorities, not honest elections MORE (D-N.Y.), the lead Democrat on the committee, similarly said he hoped Hayden could be "swiftly confirmed."

Hayden is a veteran of the American Library Association and the current chief executive of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. If confirmed, she would be the first new librarian in 28 years.

The White House is looking to replace former librarian James Billington, whose final years were marked by criticism that the library's IT infrastructure was not up to par.

Hayden described the technology modernization as one of the library's "biggest challenges."

"I'm very pleased to know that this part has been advanced, making sure the library has the technological infrastructure to accomplish its many roles, in particular with the copyright laws," she told lawmakers. 

Since a critical Government Accountability Office report last year, the library has taken up some improvements like bringing on a chief information officer. But the report also called out the library for not having a strategic plan to cope with the increasing digitization of records. The report also mentioned security and privacy weaknesses that could open it up to hacking. 

During Wednesday's hearing, Hayden answered a number of lingering questions on the library's role in managing the Copyright Office and her strong positions against bulk surveillance as head of the American Library Association in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Attempting to reach out to the influential lobby of copyright holders, she said children should learn from a young age to respect intellectual property and noted that a number of her family members are artists. However, she declined to endorse a plan pushed by some to move the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress. 

"I'm not able to at this point say that that would be the only way to accomplish what we all want," she said. 

She also did not give a firm position on opening up Congressional Research Service reports to the general public — a pet issue for a number of members of Congress and transparency groups. She said she would like to explore how to make parts of the reports available, without "stepping over the line."