Kirk Headed for Confirmation

Posted March 9, 2009 at 3:11pm

Though there was a brief dust-up following revelations that he owed nearly $10,000 in back taxes, U.S. Trade Representative nominee Ron Kirk is expected to face a friendly Senate Finance Committee on Monday when he sits for his confirmation hearing.

So friendly, in fact, that Kirk will be introduced by his one-time political rival, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

The two Texans ran against each other for the Senate in 2002, and Cornyn voiced his frustrations over Kirk’s tax record last week.

But after meeting with Kirk, a former two-term mayor of Dallas, Cornyn’s support is now a certainty.

“To have a Texan and a free-trader in that position is too much to pass up,— said Kevin McLaughlin, Cornyn’s spokesman.

Nominated in December to the trade representative post, Kirk’s confirmation was considered a lock until last week when he became the fifth Obama administration candidate to face flak over misfiled taxes. But after just a small amount of criticism, Kirk appears to have rallied more than enough support to clear the Senate as soon as this week.

“The matter is so trivial as to be irrelevant to his suitability to be the trade nominee,— Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said in a floor statement Monday.

Alexander made his comments during a larger speech on the presidential confirmation process, which he claimed is jumbled by a “maze of conflicting forms, FBI investigations, IRS audits, ethics requirements and financial disclosures.—

With a handful of top positions at the Treasury Department still left unfilled, Alexander called for Obama to turn his focus to staffing his administration.

“The president has brought upon himself some of the difficulty of putting together a team,— Alexander said. “In addition to having too many balls in the air at once, his standards for hiring sometimes seem to have the effect of disqualifying people who know something about the problem from being hired to solve the problem.—

A few Cabinet posts remain unfilled.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), nominated for Health and Human Services secretary, still must testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Finance committees before she can be confirmed. Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke (D), tapped to lead the Commerce Department, is also awaiting a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee. Both nominees appear to have broad support.