June’s no picnic for Obama’s nominees

Al Kamen
Columnist June 7, 2011

June means Flag Day, Father’s Day, and weddings and barbecues. But it also means the beginning of high-anxiety season for people hoping for Senate confirmation to top-tier government jobs. And this year could be even tougher than prior years.

For one thing, the Senate, which normally takes maybe a few weeks to go over your background checks, now has to do what’s probably going to be called a “Weiner vet,” which is to make sure you haven’t sent lewd pictures of yourself over the Internet.

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

In addition, the impending conflagration on the Hill over the debt ceiling could crowd out much of the Senate’s time in July. So even if your nomination is at the Senate, don’t assume you’ll get a committee hearing before the Aug. 5 recess.

And don’t be optimistic even if your nomination is out of committee and pending on the Senate floor. Given the time-consuming effort needed to overcome increasing numbers of holds on nominations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has prioritized nominations to make sure that the most important manage to get through.

So, if you’re deemed a “big-ticket item” — for example, a nominee for a Cabinet-level job — you’ll get to the front of the line. Thus CIA Director Leon Panetta, tapped just five weeks ago to be defense secretary, gets his hearing Thursday and might be approved before the Fourth of July. Gen. David Petraeus, who’s up for the CIA directorship, also could be approved by then.

But Senate Republicans have already tied confirmation of John Bryson, the pick to replace Gary Locke as commerce secretary, to approval of three controversial free-trade agreements.

So, if you’re a “little ticket” nominee, you may have to wait in the expected crush at about midnight Aug. 5 to see if you’ve won the job.

A bit of comity

Meanwhile, there’s good news for some not-so-top-tier nominees. Headed for passage in the Senate: measures that would lift confirmation requirements for some 200 full-time positions and put 240 part-time posts on boards and commissions on a fast track to passage.

The bipartisan legislation — supported by Reid and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) as well as Senate rules committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and ranking Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) — could be adopted as early as this month.

The House has to pass one of the measures, but prior indications are that it will defer to the Senate’s lead.

On the move

A growing number of White House folks are leaving, some — David Axelrod, Jim Messina — to the Obama campaign, and others — Washington lawyer Bob Bauer and economics professor Austen Goolsbee — to return to former jobs.

Now there’s talk that Obama’s personal secretary, Katie Johnson, the critical gatekeeper whose desk is just outside the Oval Office, is moving on, said to be heading to Harvard Law School. Johnson, 30, had been Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s special assistant for two years when he led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and she had been an assistant to 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe.

Longtime Obama aide Anita Decker, now chief of staff and White House liaison at the National Endowment for the Arts, is reportedly the pick to succeed Johnson. Decker worked on Obama’s first Senate campaign and, after he won, in his Illinois state office. She also worked for him on the 2008 campaign.

An ally in fighting poverty

Veteran journalist and former Time magazine deputy managing editor Michael Elliott has been named president and chief executive of One, the global anti-poverty organization co-founded by Bono. He replaces former Bush II White House chief of staff Josh Bolton, who’d been serving as interim chief during the search for a new top executive.

The appointment reminded us of Elliott’s blog posts back in January 2009, when he and three other Time editors took off to the increasingly fatuous Davos conference of the World’s Most Important People — just after the magazine laid off 600 staffers.

“Anxious readers will want to know that my bags have finally arrived,” Elliott wrote of his stay in the Swiss Alps. “And the rosti — an artery-clogging local dish of potatoes, bacon, and fried egg — is as good as ever. I had a great one tonight with my German friends, Joe and Christine Joffe, then dropped in to the drinks party hosted by Israeli high-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi at the Belvedere. And then the long trudge through the icy streets — it snowed off and on all day, and I was told that the skiing on the Parsenn was spectacular, dammit — and so to bed.”

That unfortunate post notwithstanding, his international experience and savvy make him a solid choice for the job.

From Park Service to BLM

Speaking of jobs, Salvatore “Sal” Lauro, who was moved aside in January as head of the U.S. Park Police when the Merit Systems Protection Board ordered that Teresa Chambers be reinstated in her job, has been named the Bureau of Land Management’s director for law enforcement. Chambers was ousted from the Park Police post eight years ago by the Bush administration for warning that staff shortages could lead to safety hazards at the national parks.

Follow In the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP.

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