Senate clock is ticking as nominees wait on their fate

We’re now into serious nail-biting time for about 150 nominees to see whether they’ll be confirmed by the Senate before the lawmakers slither out of town for a five-week recess.

The slow-boat route, via filing for cloture, would mean only a handful of those 150 — that’s how many are awaiting Senate floor action — would get confirmed, and that’s in the best of circumstances. (The debate on each nominee can take hours.)

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

But administration officials are said to be in close contact with Senate leaders on how to move as many people as possible, focusing on noncontroversial nominees such as the more than two dozen career Foreign Service officers looking for ambassadorships.

The preferred way, as far as the nominees are concerned, would be to have the traditional slate of people go through with the “unanimous consent” of all senators. That would allow large numbers to be confirmed at one time. In the post-“nuclear option” world, after the Democrats moved to limit filibusters on most nominees, this seems unlikely.

But a second option — confirming nominees by a quick voice vote — might be the way to at least get some important nominees confirmed. In fact, three long-pending ambassadorial picks, career diplomats for Cameroon, Algeria and Mauritania whose combined waits total about 760 days (more than a million minutes) were confirmed this way Tuesday in 2 minutes 7 seconds. It would have been quicker, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), sitting in the chair, was reading slowly.

(Michael Hoza, the nominee for Cameroon, where the terrorist group Boko Haram is on the prowl, was one of the subjects in a must-read Washington Post article last week on the plight of career diplomats waiting many months for confirmation.)

Hundreds of fingers are crossed in hopes that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hold voice votes for others in the next two days.

Otherwise, it appears the wait will stretch into the fall.

Help TSA be less annoying

Nothing kills a vacation buzz like the airport security line. The Transportation Security Administration has made some efforts to minimize the pain, but the agency is open to other ideas.

And it’ll pay you for them.

The TSA is offering as much as $15,000 to anyone who can devise a new security line system. It’s looking for “solvers” to build on TSA’s existing PreCheck program, which allows fliers to bypass some security rules such as removing shoes and no liquids over a certain size that often can create line gridlock.

The TSA says the new idea should take into account the various categories of travelers who sometimes abide by different screening rules — the PreCheck fliers, premier passengers, travelers in wheelchairs, and flight crews.

“Solvers are expected to provide the concept and provide evidence that it works as described in the requirements,” according to a description of the “Next Generation Checkpoint Queue Design Model” contest.

The TSA said in an e-mailed statement that the contest is “about leveraging innovation and out-of-the-box thinking to find solutions to TSA’s most challenging issues.” The contest allows the agency to “crowd source by engaging diverse and non-traditional groups of thinkers and solvers.”

If you fit that description don’t delay. The contest ends Aug. 15. And there are currently 1,638 “active solvers” angling for the prize. The TSA is guaranteeing that at least one award will be granted.

Now it’s not enough money to retire on, but you can surely use it to take a nice vacation — and as a “solver,” maybe you’ll get to skip the line.

Meet the new kid

Just hours after being sworn in, Julian Castro, the new secretary of housing and urban development, capped his first full day on the job as the star attraction at an event honoring top Latinos in the Obama administration, reports our colleague Ed O’Keefe.

O’Keefe, who was on hand at a reception hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute called “Celebrating Latino Cabinet Members,” writes:

In addition to Castro, there was Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Maria Contreras-Sweet, the administrator of the Small Business Administration. Obama elevated the SBA job to the Cabinet. But the reception also honored Katherine Archuleta, director of the Office of Personnel Management. That’ll be seen as a stretch by some, since the OPM director’s job is not officially considered Cabinet-level.

The event, in the Russell Senate Office Building, was packed with aides, interns, lobbyists and lawmakers, including Reps. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.).

As the new kid on the block — and the one with the biggest national political aspirations — Castro was the star. Many wanted selfies, and Castro obliged.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced the new HUD chief. “I don’t have too many people with the last name Castro that I like,” joked the Cuban American critic of the regime in Havana.

The event was sponsored by several corporations with business before the four administration officials, according to a program. Sponsors included Bank of America, Cargill, McDonald’s, Samsung, Mary Kay, the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers and Toyota. The auto company operates a large production facility in the San Antonio area, where Castro was mayor until last week.

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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