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Senate moves a step closer to restoring FEC quorum

Republicans on panel vote to confirm former Trump campaign lawyer

James E. Trainor III's nomination to Federal Election Commission advanced from the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on Thursday.
James E. Trainor III's nomination to Federal Election Commission advanced from the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on Thursday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate Rules and Administration panel voted Thursday 9-to-1 along party lines to advance the nomination of Texas GOP lawyer James “Trey” Trainor III to join the Federal Election Commission. 

That vote tally was of the senators voting in person, with ranking Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota the only official “no,” though she indicated unofficial, uncounted “no” votes for her fellow Democrats who did not attend. 

If confirmed by the full Senate, Trainor, who represented President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, would restore a quorum at the commission, which has been mostly incapacitated since September with just three of what should be six commissioners serving. A quorum of four is needed for the commission to hold meetings and conduct enforcement action.  

The FEC has, however, carried on with public disclosures.

“Confirming Mr. Trainor will restore partisan parity at the commission, in addition to giving the commission a critical fourth vote in order to conduct its business,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican who chairs the panel, during Thursday’s committee vote.

Democrats said they opposed Trainor’s nomination as well as the process. With Trainor on the commission, the FEC would have two Democrats and two Republicans, but typically, FEC nominees have moved in bipartisan pairs.

“Now is not the time to abandon the tradition of moving FEC nominees together in Democratic and Republican pairs,” Klobuchar said Thursday. 

Trainor said during his early March confirmation hearing that, given his role as a lawyer for Trump’s 2016 campaign, he would not commit to a “blanket recusal” from matters involving the president if he is confirmed to the agency. 

“With regard to the issue of recusal, I have already had conversations with the ethics advisers at the commission,” he told senators. “I have entered into an agreement with regard to recusals at the commission, and I intend to follow the same recusal regime that every other commissioner has followed. When matters regarding President Trump come up, I will approach the ethics officials at the agency and have that discussion with them, to see when it’s appropriate to recuse and when not.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted during Trainor’s confirmation hearing that the three remaining commissioners are all operating on expired terms, and he said he’d like to “aim for a new clean slate of commissioners on both sides” of the aisle.

Advocates from some outside groups that focus on political money overhaul matters said they objected to Trainor. 

“In his comments at his confirmation hearing, Trey Trainor demonstrated that he does not support common-sense enforcement of our election laws,” Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, said in a statement Thursday. “Trey Trainor is the wrong choice for the FEC.”

Senate leaders have not yet scheduled a floor vote on the nomination, but that could happen in the coming days.

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