As the Senate breaks for recess, Obama’s nominees are left twisting in the wind


From left, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The outlook is grim for Obama nominees awaiting confirmation from the Senate, which went into recess Friday. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

High anxiety is gripping scores of Obama administration nominees who were left dangling above the Senate floor as that distinguished body took off for a five-week recess. (That’s vacation for most of the lawmakers 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 awaiting confirmation. Another 10 political appointees, 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 up in the air.

As for judges — for which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made a concerted push — there were only eight U.S. District Court nominations pending on the floor when 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 them, 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 is 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 on things such as 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 the rules, it would be virtually impossible for that august body to process more than a handful of nominees unless Republicans agreed to move 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, the GOP leadership will decide the matter.

In which case, prudence dictates booking fully refundable travel.

Keep calm with carry-on

As Washington packs its bags for August vacations, here’s a quick Loop service reminder of things the Transportation Security Administration does not allow in carry-on luggage.

“There are so many strange things, you can’t make them up,” said Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman, mentioning, among other items passengers have tried to bring aboard, stun guns designed to look like cellphones, a hatchet and a handsaw.

The TSA keeps a weekly blog tally of the items its agents find, such as:

1. Loaded firearms.

Last week, the TSA found 50 firearms; 44 were loaded and 13 had rounds in the chamber.

2. Any kind of throwing weapon meant for ninjas.

At airports around the country last week, the TSA found 16 knuckle knives at Dulles, throwing knives at the San Jose and Long Beach airports, and a throwing star in Las Vegas.

3. Marijuana.

The TSA isn’t looking for drugs, but it says: “While we are looking primarily for explosive devices, it’s difficult not to see 80 pounds of it.”

4. Stun gun canes. (Sorry, Grandma.)

Last month, the TSA found a stun gun cane at the Tampa airport. It’s a walking cane that doubles as a stun gun for self defense. An ad touts, “They’ll think it’s just a cane, until it’s too late.”

5. Hand grenades. Or anything that looks like a hand grenade.

The TSA last month found a grenade-shaped vaping device at Salt Lake City airport. You can bring vaping devices or e-cigarettes on airplanes with you, the agency says, “unless they look like a grenade.”

He said, she said

A bit of drama that played out on the House floor on Friday bled into Monday, when a Republican congressman gave a play-by-play of the heated skirmish he had with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Appearing on Fox News, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) laid out the details of his fight with Pelosi, concluding that “some people in Congress think they are royalty. . . . I’m not afraid to speak up, I’m a street fighter, I’m not going to continue to let someone belittle and make statements that are not true.”

With passions high from the difficulty of getting a border bill passed before Congress’s recess, Marino was giving a House floor speech about immigration when he charged that Pelosi could have dealt with the issue when the Democrats had the majority at the beginning of the Obama administration. Pelosi crossed the floor to confront Marino, and according to his retelling, told him that he was a liar. In a later conversation, she called him “an insignificant person” while “wagging her finger at me,” Marino said.

He said she was “visibly shaken.” As a former U.S. attorney, Marino said, the confrontation was a “walk in the park” compared with dealing with drug dealers and hardened criminals.

Pelosi’s office said in a statement Friday, “Leader Pelosi just wanted to remind the Congressman that House Democrats had the courage to pass the DREAM Act — and have the courage to stand up for what the American people want: bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform. What have Republicans done?”

Pelosi’s spokeswoman Evangeline George also said that Marino had apologized. The congressman says he did not.

Pelosi’s office said Monday it had nothing to add to its statement.

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz

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