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Nominations Dominate Senate Agenda

In the runup to the Obama administration’s100-day mark, the Senate is poised to consider a handful of the president’s nominations to fill vacancies in the Justice and State departments.

Returning tonight after a two-week break, the Senate will take up the nominations of Lanny Breuer, Christine Varney and Tony West to serve in various assistant attorney general posts in the Justice Department. All are expected to easily pass.

A vote to end debate on the nomination of Christopher Hill to be the ambassador to Iraq is also scheduled. A handful of GOP Senators, led by Sam Brownback (Kan.), have charged that Hill is not prepared for the job, and they sent a letter to President Barack Obama last month opposing the nomination. The noise is not expected to derail Hill’s eventual confirmation, however.

After some delay, the Finance Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius to serve as Health and Human Services secretary.

The Kansas governor is the only Obama Cabinet secretary yet to be confirmed, and with the full support of her home state’s two Republican Senators, she is expected to be approved.

Sebelius, who previously served as Kansas’ insurance commissioner, enjoyed a warm reception during an April 2 hearing before the Finance panel, which has jurisdiction over the HHS post. Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) pushed off holding a committee vote before the recess to provide Members with more time consider her nomination.

Sebelius is Obama’s second choice for HHS. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) withdrew his nomination after coming under fire for failing to pay more than $100,000 in taxes on time. Sebelius ran into her own tax issues earlier this month when it was revealed she had to pay $8,000 in misfiled taxes. Still, her confirmation never appeared in doubt.

And while the Senate will begin the week considering a trio of Justice Department appointments, missing from the lineup is Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, who was nominated to run the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

Johnsen sat for a contentious confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 25. The panel approved her nomination on March 20 on a party-line, 11-7 vote.

Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) opted to pass on voting on the nomination in committee, and he has not said how he will come down when the full Senate considers it.

Social conservatives have objected to Johnsen, who as head of the Office of Legal Counsel would be the president’s top adviser on matters before the Supreme Court. Senate Republicans have discussed possibly filibustering her nomination when it comes to the floor.

An aide to Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Nevada Democrat is working on reaching an agreement to consider Johnsen’s nomination soon.

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