Cabinet nominees left hanging

Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said that the position of State Department legal adviser was created in 1931 under Franklin D. Roosevelt. Herbert Hoover was president then.

Al Kamen
Columnist June 13, 2013

For some people, summertime means the beach or maybe the mountains, a time to kick back in the shade to catch up on reading or just hang out.

But for a few of President Obama’s Cabinet nominees, it may mean twisting slowly in those summer breezes, waiting for the Senate to act on their nominations.

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

Two nominees, Penny Pritzker for Commerce and Anthony Foxx for Transportation, have a reasonable chance of celebrating the Fourth of July as Cabinet members. Both were voted out of committee unanimously earlier this week — a very good sign.

Barring an unexpected — but increasingly common — kerfuffle over some issue having nothing to do with them, they look like pretty safe bets to be confirmed before the Senate takes off for the week-long Independence Day recess starting June 28. It’s unclear whether the nominee for U.S. trade representative, Michael Froman, can make it before the break.

But we’re hearing that Environmental Protection Agency nominee Gina McCarthy and Labor nominee Tom Perez aren’t likely to get floor votes until July — if then.

Two committees sent their nominations to the full Senate in May — but by straight party-line votes, so the two nominees may need 60 votes to overcome GOP objections and a filibuster.

The problem is that the Senate has begun debating the controversial 1,000-page immigration bill and Democrats are loath to consume valuable floor time to break a filibuster for a nominee.

So if nothing can be worked out, McCarthy and Perez may have to cope with the usual July uncertainty, in which all manner of political brawling may erupt.

That’s when the real nail-biting begins. If nominees don’t get a vote in July, they will have to wait until the Senate’s five-week “work period,” which starts Aug. 2 and goes to Sept. 9.

Digesting architecture

Everybody seems to like Ike. But on the matter of how to memorialize the 34th president, well, that’s where the disagreement comes in.

Efforts to scrap the plan for a memorial to Dwight Eisenhower on the Mall, designed by uber-architect Frank Gehry, advanced on Wednesday, with a House committee passing legislation that would essentially take the project back to the drawing board.

The bill’s author, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who chairs the House Natural Resources subcommittee on public lands, is apparently no fan of the Gehry design, although his measure focused on the process used to select and develop it, which he says should have been more open to other architects.

But the commission seems to be proceeding apace, regardless of threats from the Hill. Our colleague the great Phil Kennicott recently wrote that the panel this month released a part of the memorial’s video component and announced the quotations it is considering using.

The bill’s fate is murky. It’s unclear whether House leaders have any appetite for bringing it to the floor for a vote, and it’s an even more distant prospect that the Senate would then follow suit.

A different ceiling

Please excuse our whiplash.

Less than two months ago, the White House announced that the president had picked Avril Haines, deputy assistant to the president and deputy counsel for national security affairs, to be the top lawyer at the State Department.

But on Wednesday, the White House announced that Haines isn’t heading to Foggy Bottom. Instead, she will be the CIA’s new deputy director, replacing the retiring Mike Morell (as our colleague Karen DeYoung reported).

That’s a most unusual move.

No doubt there’s disappointment over at State, where we hear Haines’s former colleagues (she was an attorney at State before getting plucked for the White House job) were looking forward to working with her again. And Secretary John Kerry was particularly eager to fill some of those top slots he has open with women and Foreign Service and career types (though we hear her switcheroo has his blessing).

And despite her change of destination, it looks as though Haines is still going to be a trailblazer: She would have been the first woman to serve as legal adviser at State (which the Loop noted earlier has been an all-boys club since the post was established under Herbert Hooverin 1931). But now she’ll be the first woman to serve as deputy CIA director.

Apparently she was destined to crack a glass ceiling somewhere.

Popularly elected?

Number of the day: 10. That’s the percentage of Americans who say they have confidence in Congress, according to a new Gallup poll.

The news is grim for folks on Capitol Hill, who are notoriously obsessed with polling. “This is the lowest level of confidence Gallup has found, not only for Congress, but for any institution on record,” the pollsters noted.

By contrast, the military topped the list of most trusted institutions (76 percent). And we should note that newspapers aren’t the most confidence-inspiring, with only 25 percent of people saying they have faith in our ink-stained ranks.

Maybe next year Gallup could include “oily used-car salesmen” on the list, just to help lawmakers save face?

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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