With conservative advocates at his side, Senate Environment and Public Works Ranking Member James Inhofe, R-Okla., announced Tuesday he was putting a hold on President Obama’s nominee for Commerce secretary, John Bryson.
Inhofe says that Bryson, a former utility executive and cofounder of a major environmental organization, would prove Obama “has no intention of backing down from his jobs-killing agenda.”
Nearly all Senate Republicans have vowed to block Bryson’s nomination until the White House approves pending free trade deals, but those holds aren't about Bryson. Inhofe indicated he will keep his hold on Bryson regardless of what happens with those trade agreements.
“I don’t care about those holds,” Inhofe said. “My hold is still going to be on it.”
Obama nominated Bryson, former chairman and CEO of Edison International and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, to the Commerce Department post in May.
Inhofe and two conservative groups, American Conservative Union and Freedom Action, are launching a grassroots campaign to persuade senators to vote against Bryson. While they’re not overly confident they’ll succeed, their ultimate goal is to force Obama’s hand.
“My goal is to have him withdrawn and to have Obama submit somebody else,” Inhofe said at a press conference Tuesday. Inhofe told National Journal Daily after the event that his efforts probably won’t succeed. “Probably not, but you gotta try,” Inhofe said.
Freedom Action Director Myron Ebell, who was also at the event, told National Journal Daily before the event that their goal is to raise enough opposition so Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., won’t bring the nomination to the floor and to build grassroots opposition so senators “get nervous about voting on it.”
Inhofe plans to plug his efforts to GOP leadership at the party’s weekly steering committee Wednesday. ACU and Freedom Action plan to lobby senators of both parties.
“There are some Democrats in the Senate that represent coal-producing states and I can’t for the life of me see how they can look after their constituents and vote for this gentleman’s nomination,” ACU Chairman Al Cardenas said at the event.
It’s likely that the Senate will ultimately confirm Bryson, but Inhofe has ensured it will only come after a political food fight that’s likely to rally the conservative base just as the 2012 election cycle is getting under way. The American Conservative Union, which hosts the Conservative Political Action Conference every year, approached Inhofe about his efforts, signaling the interest tea-party and other conservative groups have in fighting this nomination.
The conservative opposition could resonate in the campaign echo chamber given the Commerce Department’s focus on the economy and jobs. Inhofe spokesman Matt Dempsey said Inhofe’s hold was unusual and was done primarily because Bryson would be at the helm of a department specifically designed to spur the economy (as compared to the EPA, for example). Dempsey also said similar efforts are likely in the works for Obama’s nomination of Rebecca Wodder to be assistant Interior Secretary of fish, wildlife and parks. Wodder is CEO of American Rivers, a national nonprofit dedicated to protecting rivers.