At odds with the president, senators in his own party, and Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is backpedaling on his strong opposition to granting a new four-year term to Republican Kristine Svinicki on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Sources say that for weeks Reid had been urging President Obama not to renominate Svinicki, one of the four commissioners on the five-member NRC who clashed last year with Chairman Gregory Jaczko, a former aide to Reid.
But early on Thursday morning, the White House, appearing unwilling to risk a fight over a female nominee right now, signaled that it is sending the commissioner’s paperwork to the Senate for confirmation, despite Reid’s efforts this week to portray her as unqualified for reappointment.
While Reid reiterated his opposition to Svinicki on Thursday, he refrained from ruling out a possible confirmation vote on the Senate floor.
“There’ll be a committee hearing,” he said. “I am not going to draw any line in the sand. We’ll see what happens.”
Whether Svinicki is confirmed will depend in part on how strong a stance other lawmakers, particularly Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., take in opposition. Democratic aides said it is unlikely that Reid, who controls the Senate floor, would allow Svinicki’s confirmation to move on its own, but might do so as part of a broader agreement that allows other nominations or measures to advance.
On Wednesday, a Reid spokesman charged that Svinicki lied to Congress in a 2007 hearing on her NRC nomination about her past work on the now-defunct nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Reid’s home state of Nevada.
Reid, a fierce opponent of the waste dump, on Thursday declined to say if he thought Svinicki had committed perjury. But he made clear that Svinicki’s ties to Yucca as a former Department of Energy engineer were on his mind. Reid noted that two other members of the Nevada delegation—Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley—stand solidly behind him in opposing Svinicki’s reappointment.
On all other questions related to Svinicki, Reid deferred to Boxer, who has also expressed concern over Svinicki’s viability. “Talk to Boxer,” Reid repeatedly told reporters.
Aides to Boxer said they would not respond to questions about Svinicki until at least next week.
Support for Svinicki’s renomination grew on Thursday, as Senate Republicans stood together lauding her credentials and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., told reporters that he plans to support her as well, joining Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware as the second top Democrat to speak up for Svinicki.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., threw his own punch at Reid, a former boxer, on Thursday, noting that if the majority leader still has a problem with Svinicki as a nominee, “he can take that up with the president of the United States.”
All the while, Svinicki, who joined the commission in 2008 after being appointed by President George W. Bush, has been traveling in Africa this week at the behest of the Obama administration. She is attending a meeting in Namibia entitled “International Atomic Energy Agency Regional Seminar on Good Practices in the Processing and Control of Uranium Ore Concentrate,” and is also scheduled to attend a conference on nuclear power in South Africa.
Svinicki is hardly a well-known public figure, but she’s known in the nuclear world. A 1988 University of Michigan graduate with a degree in nuclear engineering, she started as an energy engineer for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, then was a nuclear engineer at the Department of Energy, in both Idaho and Washington, D.C., where she worked in both the nuclear science and radioactive-waste management offices.
Before her appointment to the NRC, Svinicki spent more than a decade as a staffer for the Senate Armed Services Committee, first for former Chairman John Warner, R-Va., and later for the current ranking member, John McCain, R-Ariz.
On Capitol Hill, Svinicki “was responsible for the committee’s portfolio of defense science and technology programs and policies, and for the atomic-energy defense activities of the U.S. Department of Energy, including nuclear weapons, nuclear security, and environmental programs,” according to her biography on the NRC website.
Dan Friedman contributed