Senate War Over Presidential Appointees Heats Up as Two Nominees Are Blocked

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 4: Incoming Chairman Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC) of the Congressional Black Caucus applauds during a swearing-in ceremony of caucus members in the 109th U.S. Congress at the Library of Congress January 4, 2005 in Washington, DC. The 109th Congress was sworn in January 4. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Michael Catalin
Oct. 31, 2013, 10:32 a.m.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans blocked two White House nom­in­a­tions on Thursday, in­clud­ing Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to head the Fed­er­al Hous­ing Fin­ance Agency.

Watt’s nom­in­a­tion, which went down on a 56-42 clo­ture vote, was highly politi­cized be­cause the role in­cludes over­see­ing Fan­nie Mae and Fred­die Mac. Con­ser­vat­ives, in­clud­ing the Club for Growth, op­posed the nom­in­a­tion be­cause they said it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate for a politi­cian to fill such a role.

“I have said from day one that a tech­no­crat, not a politi­cian, should lead the FHFA, the reg­u­lat­or charged with over­see­ing the $5 tril­lion port­fo­li­os of Fan­nie Mae and Fred­die Mac,” said Sen. Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn.

Re­pub­lic­ans also blocked the nom­in­a­tion of Pa­tri­cia Ann Mil­lett to be a judge on the U.S. Cir­cuit Court for the Dis­trict of Columbia by a clo­ture vote of 55-38. Sixty votes were needed to ad­vance the nom­in­a­tions.

Re­pub­lic­ans cited Demo­crat­ic at­tacks against a GOP ju­di­cial nom­in­ee, Peter Keisler, who was fili­bustered be­cause Demo­crats ar­gued there was a light work­load for the court and the po­s­i­tion did not need to be filled. So, the reas­on Demo­crats want to ap­prove Mil­lett now is polit­ics, Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gued.

“Our Demo­crat­ic col­leagues and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sup­port­ers have been fairly can­did about it,” said Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky. “They have ad­mit­ted they want to con­trol the court so it will ad­vance the pres­id­ent’s agenda.”

The blocked nom­in­a­tions re­ignite a sim­mer­ing fight in the Sen­ate over wheth­er to change the con­firm­a­tion pro­cess to lim­it the minor­ity party’s abil­ity to block nom­in­a­tions.

Demo­crats re­acted furi­ously to the failed pro­ced­ur­al votes.

“It is dis­ap­point­ing that a sit­ting mem­ber of Con­gress with over 40 years of rel­ev­ant ex­per­i­ence was denied an up-or-down vote by a minor­ity of sen­at­ors today,” said Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tim John­son, D-S.D., in a state­ment. “It is not a secret that this vote was pure ob­struc­tion­ist polit­ics at play.”

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