Obama’s push to fill judicial, agency vacancies in uphill fight
WASHINGTON — The push by President Obama and his allies to fill judicial and agency vacancies is about to run head-on into limitations imposed by the calendar and the nation’s voters.
More than 150 nominees are lined up for potential confirmation votes by the Democratic-run Senate during Congress’ lame-duck session, which begins Wednesday and should last five weeks or less. With last Tuesday’s elections giving Republicans Senate control of the new Congress that starts in January, Obama supporters hope the chamber will approve as many of his picks as possible while Democrats control which votes will occur.
“McConnell and his caucus can force Democrats to take a lot of time to force nominations through,” Michelle Schwartz, director of justice programs for the liberal group Alliance for Justice, said of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “But they cannot stop them.”
Democrats hope a compromise with Republicans will ease the way for many Obama nominees during the lame-duck period, but it is unclear if such a deal is possible or how extensive it would be.
The most anticipated nomination battle — over a replacement for departing Attorney General Eric Holder — may not occur until next year.
The White House has said it wants Obama’s pick, federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch, to be approved without delay but would leave the timing to Senate leaders. Republicans say they want her nomination to be considered next year, when they are in charge.
The list of nominees awaiting Senate action, which will likely grow, includes 16 federal district court judgeships and 31 ambassadorships to countries ranging from Vietnam to the United Arab Emirates to the Bahamas. Also on tap are Obama’s picks for surgeon general, a member of the National Labor Relations Board, the commissioner of the Social Security Administration and high-level jobs at the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
The nomination push by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will be constrained by his desire to approve time-consuming bills before Congress adjourns for the year.
These will likely include measures dealing with defense policy and renewing an expiring ban on state and local taxation of Internet access. Other bills would finance federal agencies through next September and renew popular tax breaks that have lapsed for businesses and individuals.