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Lott Fumes at Administration

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) criticized the White House on Wednesday for refusing to accept a bipartisan deal that would clear the way for a new batch of nominations to be approved by the Senate before Congress halts legislative business until after the November elections.

Administration officials are holding up the deal over their opposition to a Democrat recommended by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to a federal commission, said Lott, who refused to reveal the disputed individual’s name or the commission that person would serve on.

However, several sources said the White House opposes the reappointment of Securities and Exchange Commissioner Harvey Goldschmid, who joined the commission in 2002 and has been an outspoken advocate for investors. A professor at Columbia University School of Law prior to joining the SEC, Goldschmid’s term expired in June of this year. A federal statute allows Goldschmid to remain as an SEC commissioner until next year, unless another person is confirmed to fill his slot.

While Lott was adamant about not naming the nominee in question, he did indicate that the fate of as many as 50 Republican nominees hinged on whether an agreement could be reached on this deal.

“It is a list that Senator Daschle has been very good working with us to come up with,” said Lott, as he brandished several sheets of paper with the names of the nominees being considered for approval. “Unfortunately it looks like the White House is going to blow it.

“I think it is very short-sighted,” he added.

Negotiations over this latest potential nomination deal are so sensitive that several people involved in the discussions, including Daschle, would not speak on the record or provide even basic details, such as how many individuals might be involved or if any of those tentatively approved for passage were nominated for the federal bench.

“I don’t want to blow it up if we can help it,” said Daschle, who would not answer any direct questions about the talks. “We are still negotiating. I still think something can get done.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) also said he held out hope for a resolution, but indicated that the problem extends beyond one particular nominee.

“It is probably more than one person,” Frist said. “We are working on it … still negotiating it.”

A White House spokesman, Allen Abney, said the administration would not “comment on personnel matters.”

The Senate is expected to recess at the end of this week and gavel back into session following the Nov. 2 elections. It is unclear how many nominees would be included in the proposed deal, but as of Wednesday there were 142 executive branch nominees awaiting action on the executive calendar, meaning the Senate could act upon them immediately. Seventeen of those listed on the executive were nominated by Bush for the federal bench.

Despite Daschle’s recommendation, the White House has not renominated Goldschmid, a Democrat who is rumored to be in line to chair the SEC if Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is elected president in November.

Democrats and Bush have been engaged in a four-year running battle over Bush’s choices for key administration positions as well as the federal bench. But it is the battle over judges, who receive lifetime appointments, that has drawn the most attention. In the 108th Congress, Democrats have successfully blocked the confirmation of 10 of Bush’s appellate court judges who they charge are politically extreme. Republicans have tried to label Democrats as partisan obstructionists, a tag they hope sticks when voters head to the polls.

Another battle between Senate Democrats and the White House is over whether Daschle has the right to unilaterally choose some nominees for commissions that have designated “Democratic seats.” Lott said the breakdown in the nomination process should be shouldered by both the Democrats and the White House.

“I guess the problems began with the Democrats blocking federal judges and other nominations and then I think that is exacerbated by the fact that the White House wouldn’t agree to Daschle having a total say on who the appointments are to Democrat positions,” Lott said. “You have Democrats holding up a whole mess of nominees because they want one person to a commission or a board and then you have got the White House refusing to agree to a list that could confirm 50 Republicans because they refuse to agree to one name.”

Lott added, “This is not good for the body or the confirmation process. People’s lives are in limbo. They do not know when they are going to be confirmed. You are talking about federal judges. You are talking about ambassadors. You are talking about deputy secretaries of departments. This is not good.”

One such person in limbo is a former Daschle aide, Jonathan Adelstein, who joined the Federal Communications Commission in 2002 and needs the Senate to confirm him to a new term to continue serving on the commission. Lott, who initially blocked Adelstein’s appointment as retribution for Democrats’ treatment of his close friend Mississippi judge Charles Pickering, said he supports approving the former Daschle aide for an additional term.

“I think what the White House has done on Jonathan Adelstein in indefensible,” Lott said. “The fact that they haven’t sent the papers and held him up. Why? Maybe it has to do with South Dakota politics. The problem I have, and maybe that is why I am where I am and not where I was, is I feel the best politics is good government.”

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D), the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said he thinks the president should follow Lott’s advice and agree to the deal.

“I think just about anything that Senator Lott and Senator Daschle were to agree [on], I think would be a pretty good agreement,” he said.

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