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Democrats Optimistic on Nominees

Senate Democrats this week expressed new optimism that they can unlock nearly 200 stalled executive branch nominees after the chamber confirmed Thomas Perez to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

There are 29 executive branch hopefuls awaiting a Senate vote, and 146 more are awaiting committee action.

On the list: David Hamilton and Andre Davis, a pair of circuit court nominees who were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 4 but have yet to be considered on the Senate floor, four assistant attorney general picks and a host of undersecretaries in a handful of agencies.

The Senate voted 72-22 on Tuesday to install Perez — a confirmation one White House aide said gives the administration hope for Senate movement on other pending executive branch nominees.

“Given that the nomination of Tom Perez was confirmed, we’re hopeful additional Justice nominations including Dawn Johnsen can be confirmed in the coming weeks,— the White House aide said.

Johnsen is the most controversial nominee awaiting Senate action. President Barack Obama tapped her in February to lead the Office of Legal Counsel. Republicans staunchly oppose her selection over her positions on abortion rights and her past criticism of Bush administration interrogation tactics.

But some Democrats aren’t rallying behind her selection either.

Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) has taken issue with her previous statements on the interrogation techniques. And Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) has not said whether he would support her installment or whether he would back procedural motion to consider her nomination on the Senate floor.

Still, some Democratic aides contended this week that there’s at least enough support to bring the nomination, which has been lingering on the Senate calendar since March 19, up for a vote.

“It takes 60 votes for cloture and it takes 51 votes to confirm somebody,— a Democratic aide pointed out.

“I expect that Dawn Johnsen will be confirmed,— Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday. “Her nomination has been pending, from my own parochial interest, for far too long. I’d like to have her here on the fifth floor with me and running the Office of Legal Counsel.—

White House officials are “in constant communication with Members— to move Obama’s nominees, an Obama aide said.

There have been many reasons for the backlog.

Kansas GOP Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback for weeks held up the nomination of Secretary of the Army John McHugh while they sought assurances from the Obama administration that detainees from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would not be sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The duo later lifted the hold and McHugh was approved.

The logjam has caused headaches for some, including Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), whose panel has approved 15 of the nominees now pending before the full Senate.

“I hope that, instead of withholding consents and threatening filibusters of President Obama’s nominees, the other side of the aisle will join us in treating them fairly,— Leahy said Wednesday at a committee hearing. “We should not have to fight for months to schedule consideration of the president’s nominations for critical posts in the executive branch.—