Updated: May 30, 5:07 p.m.
With the Senate facing a full legislative calendar and a Supreme Court debate ahead, the outlook for the more than 100 names on the executive calendar appears grim for the rest of the year.
The Senate adjourned Friday for a weeklong Memorial Day break after clearing a few noncontroversial names but not a larger package that Senate leaders had been discussing all week. Congressional aides suggest President Barack Obama may clear some names using recess appointment power this week. Still, dozens of nominees will remain on the calendar after Senators return from their break.
Obama used a recess appointment to install the highly controversial Craig Becker in March to serve on the National Labor Relations Board, and it was that very name that tripped up negotiations this week. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to reach consensus on a group of names before gaveling out of session, but Republicans would not agree to approve Becker for a full term. His recess appointment expires at the end of the Congress.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) sought unanimous consent on a package of 51 names that included Becker’s on Thursday night after most Members had left the floor, but it was denied by McConnell.
“There’s a fundamental lack of equity and fairness involved here, and that’s been a significant hindrance in coming to a consent agreement,” McConnell said on the floor.
“Typically what happens here before a recess is the Majority Leader and I get together and we try to work out as many of these as we can,” McConnell went on, noting that would likely not be the case before the Memorial Day break.
The Senate did confirm a group of 31 military and other noncontroversial nominations Friday before adjourning. Five additional names were cleared earlier in the week.
Reid said Thursday that the chamber would consider one and perhaps a handful of nominations when the Senate returns June 7, although it is unclear whom he will seek to bring up.
More than two dozen judicial nominations are pending on the Senate calendar, where they are likely to stay once Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court appointment is debated on the floor this summer. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has regularly voiced his frustration with the slow process of clearing judicial nominations — the most recent approval by the Senate was on May 11.
Sen. Claire McCaskill has taken the issue on by inviting colleagues to end the use of secret holds on nominations and legislation. The Missouri Democrat’s petition has 63 signatures. Changing a Senate rule requires 67 votes, and she said she plans to collect that many signatures.
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have legislation that would clamp down on the practice of secret holds, although it has not received a floor vote despite recent attempts.