It’s high-anxiety time for Obama’s nominees in the Senate


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (L) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

High anxiety is gripping scores of Obama administration nominees left dangling above the Senate floor as that distinguished body took off for a five-week recess. (That’s vacation for most of them and nonstop campaigning for a few facing tight races.)

Here’s a wrap-up of where things stand:

About 20 career foreign service officers, waiting for many months for ambassadorships in some rough places, are still pending. Another 10 political ambassadors, including that great trio led by mega-bundler hotelier George Tsunis for Norway, are also waiting. The vacant posts (some would call them insults to allies) also include: Ireland, France, New Zealand, South Korea and, of course, Turkey, which is merely at the epicenter of all things Mideast and is having a presidential election this month.

And with the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit here this week, many countries on the continent don’t have U.S. ambassadors.

And then there are dozens of other senior officials — again virtually all noncontroversial –including a deputy secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and assorted assistant secretaries, still on the floor.

As for judges — where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made a concerted push — there were only eight district court nominees pending on the floor when the senators ran for the exits on Friday.

For the wannabes, the clock is not looking favorable. The Senate, gridlocked on nominations since Reid invoked the “nuclear option” in November to limit minority Republicans ability to block nominations, is only expected to be in session for two weeks and two days in September. (And out all of October.)

Reid has said that he was determined to pass the National Defense Authorization Act — the Pentagon’s budget — which, let’s say, will take three to four days. Then he wants to act things like raising the minimum wage, pay equity for women and reducing the student loan burden, easily taking up at least another three to four days.

Under current rules, it would be virtually impossible for that august body to process more than a small handful of nominees unless Republicans agreed to moving nominees in groups.

After September, you’re into the sheer chaos of post-election lame-duckery. If, as seems quite possible, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is majority leader in January, then the GOP leadership will decide the matter.

In which case, prudence dictates booking fully refundable travel.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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