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Nominations Deal Falls Apart

A second attempt by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the White House to move scores of outstanding executive branch nominations before the Memorial Day recess blew up in the Senate on Thursday night, leaving in its wake confirmation of a Cabinet secretary. Reid and the White House hatched a last-minute deal for the Senate to confirm Steve Preston as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, along with several nominees to the Institute of Peace, military officeholders, undersecretaries and ambassadors. The deal appeared to be headed for a unanimous consent agreement as the Senate prepared for the recess, but it fell apart after a Republican Senator objected to the deal. Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) blocked the package of nominations from advancing because Reid continues to object to his pick for the Tennessee Valley Authority board. Alexander has pressed Reid to approve William Graves for another term on TVA, but the Majority Leader has said no, wanting Democratic representation on the board. An Alexander spokesman said, “Senator Reid has been playing politics with nominees like Bishop Graves for far too long and that has got to stop. This is no small matter to Senator Alexander, and it’s astonishing that the Democratic Leader doesn’t recognize that fact after the conversations and letters exchanged by the two senators these past weeks and months. “Reid has chosen an Institute of Peace nominee over the Secretary of Housing in the middle of a housing slump. That’s not the sort of leadership people expect from Congress,” the spokesman added. The dust-up over executive branch appointments is the latest chapter in the ongoing feud between Reid and the White House over nominees to various boards, commissions and agencies. Both sides want their individual nominees to be put in place but have struggled to agree to a deal for months. Jim Manley, spokesman for Reid, said late Thursday that his boss was hoping for a last-minute agreement before Senators left town for the weeklong recess, but the TVA appointment sunk the deal. He said Reid and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten agreed to advance a package of about 80 outstanding nominees – including the HUD secretary – but will now have to revisit the confirmations when Senators return. Manley called it “a shocking turn of events.” He said Reid had hoped to work on a deal with the White House after it showed good faith in quickly nominating Matt Petersen as a replacement to the Federal Election Commission earlier on Thursday. Petersen, a Senate Republican Rules and Administration Committee staffer, would replace the candidacy of Hans von Spakovsky, who was fiercely opposed by Democrats. Manley called Petersen’s nomination “an encouraging sign.” “We had a deal with the White House, but in the end that wasn’t enough for one or more Senate Republicans,” Manley said. “So, in the end, Republicans blocked an attempt to confirm a Housing secretary on a very tight schedule. They set back efforts to get a fully functioning FEC up and running and left dozens of nominees twisting in the wind.” The White House expressed disappointment as well, saying the events underscore a trend of Democrats stalling President Bush’s picks. “This week, we’ve seen a troubling trend in the Senate that demonstrates the majority’s misplaced priorities and its complete inability to accomplish important work for the American people,” said spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore. “First, a Senate committee voted down the highly qualified EPA general counsel nominee simply because they don’t like the administration’s polices. Second, the Majority Leader failed to fulfill his promise to confirm three circuit court judges by Memorial Day. Third – and most appalling – the Majority Leader of the United States Senate has refused to swiftly confirm the next secretary of Housing and Urban Development as our country continues to face a housing crisis due to an unrelated dispute not involving the Administration. Enough is enough. Senate Democrats need to put their political games aside and put America’s best interests first.”

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