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Deal on Reid Pick for NRC Ends Nominee Standoff

Sen. Harry Reid (D) scored his first major political victory as the new Senate Minority Leader by securing a post on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an opponent of the government’s plan to send highly radioactive nuclear waste to his home state of Nevada.

With the White House becoming increasingly worried that Reid’s “hold” on nearly 200 nominees would prevent them from staffing their administration as they head into a second term, President Bush agreed this weekend to use his recess appointment powers to put Reid’s science aide, Greg Jaczko, on the NRC.

As part of the last minute agreement reached in the early hours of Sunday morning, Reid lifted his objections to confirming scores of Bush nominees, and the Senate unanimously approved 172 nominations to various posts including ambassadors, judges, and positions at various Cabinet agencies.

“I am extremely pleased that we were able to reach a deal that places a strong, independent voice on the NRC, while ensuring that nearly 200 other federal posts will be promptly filled,” Reid said in a statement.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) — a strong backer of building a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain near Las Vegas — also hailed the agreement, despite his earlier efforts to prevent Jaczko from joining the commission.

Domenici, in a statement, called the deal with the White House a victory because “We made clear that a nominee as controversial as Greg Jaczko will not be confirmed by the Senate for the sake of political expedience regardless of the pressure exerted by his advocate, Senator Reid.”

Indeed, the White House has to use the recess appointment option because Domenici steadfastly refused to allow the Senate to confirm Jaczko to a full five-year term on the NRC.

“By Saturday morning, the pressure from the White House got really intense because I guess they really needed those 100 or so other nominees,” said one Senate Republican aide. “But [some] Republican Senators felt very serious about not confirming Jaczko.”

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Saturday, Domenici and 15 other Senators wrote, “While our position is certainly not politically expedient, we place too much importance on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to let that happen.”

Part of the deal includes a promise from the White House that they will not renominate Jaczko for a full term once his two-year recess appointment ends. Assuming Bush appoints Jaczko during a Congressional recess in January, as is expected, the law only allows Jaczko to serve until the end of the 109th Congress.

Jaczko also agreed to recuse himself from NRC actions involving Yucca for the first year of his tenure, according to a Domenici aide.

The White House also plans to use the recess appointment powers to put on the NRC a recently named Republican nominee, Albert Konetzni, a retiring Navy vice admiral in charge of nuclear submarines. Members of both parties recommend nominees to the bipartisan NRC.

The White House nominated Konetzni in the past few weeks, hoping that pairing a GOP nominee with Reid’s pick would help smooth Senate confirmation for both.

However, Domenici objected to confirming Konetzni because there had been no hearings on his nomination, said the Domenici aide. However, Konetzni had been visiting with Senators in the last week or so allowing them to question him informally.

There is still a possibility that Konetzni could be confirmed by the Senate to a full term when Congress reconvenes Dec. 7.

Additionally, the agreement permits the current NRC Chairman Nils Diaz to serve as chairman for an additional six months.

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