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Republicans Join to Confirm Judicial Nominee Despite Fury Over Berwick

While the Senate easily approved the nomination of Sharon Coleman, 86-0, to serve as a district judge in northern Illinois on Monday night, Republicans issued a stern warning that their anger over President Barack Obama’s recess appointments could spell trouble for future nominees.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the floor Monday to blast Obama’s move to install Dr. Donald Berwick as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the Health and Human Services Department over the Congressional recess.

The Kentucky Republican noted that Berwick did not sit for a confirmation hearing before he was cleared, and he promised the recess appointment “has only reignited the debate over the Democrat health care plan.”

“This has been the administration’s approach all along: go around the American people, and now go around Congress,” McConnell said. “The administration can try to blame Republicans for a debate they don’t want to have. But by denying Congress the ability to scrutinize this nominee, it only raises Americans’ suspicions about its health care plan and increases the burden on Democrats who supported it.”

A Senate GOP aide said Members would likely discuss new messaging points on the enacted health care overhaul in light of Berwick’s recess appointment, as well as whether to carry out a broader procedural strategy, during Tuesday’s weekly policy luncheon.

“In the near term, any progress on nominees will be looked at through the prism of Berwick,” a Senate GOP aide said.

Republicans are far angrier at Berwick’s recess appointment than that of Craig Becker, the controversial nominee for the National Labor Relations Board whom Obama cleared in March. The GOP aide said “people are furious” with Obama’s move.

A handful of other Republicans filed to the floor to expand on McConnell’s outrage.

“This is not the transparency that Barack Obama promised when he campaigned for the job of president,” Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) said.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) called it “an insult to the American people.”

While Republicans used Berwick’s appointment to blast Obama and the health care overhaul, Democrats launched a defense.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) acknowledged “that it is regrettable that this was a recess appointment,” but he suggested the move was necessary given previous GOP blockades on other nominees.

“A recess appointment was really the only way for the president to ensure that CMS is fully equipped to handle the vital and voluminous and immediate tasks that we have asked CMS to perform,” Whitehouse said.

More than 60 nominees are pending on the Senate calendar, including picks widely considered less controversial than Berwick. The Senate is slated to take up the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court during this work period, and it was not immediately clear whether the events over the July Fourth recess would affect the debate.

Obama used his recess appointment power for two other nominees last week: Philip E. Coyle III to be associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Joshua Gotbaum to be director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

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