Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

Senate moving on Obama nominees

How slowly is President Obama’s second-term Cabinet coming together?

Well, there are two sides to the story.

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.

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One part of the equation is how fast Obama is putting up nominees. And it seems he’s been pretty sluggish on that front. With the addition Monday of Thomas Perez for labor secretary, he’s announced eight nominees and still has four more Cabinet or Cabinet-rank jobs to fill. By contrast, George W. Bush had made 11 nominations by this time in his second term — nine of which he made in the six weeks after reelection. Bill Clinton had announced 12 nominees by the end of the December after his reelection.

But in the second half of the Obama administration’s nomination picture — how quickly the Senate is approving those nominees — things are moving apace.

Three of Obama’s Cabinet nominees have been confirmed so far: Secretary of State John Kerry , Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew . For those folks, the average number of days between the announcement by the White House and confirmation is 45.6 days, which beats the averages of the last three administrations that had second terms.

According to the Congressional Research Service, it took an average of 54.6 days for Bush’s second-term nominees; that figure was 67.8 days for Clinton’s picks and 56 days for Ronald Reagan’s.

Who says the Senate can’t step lively these days?

Diversity within diversity

One factoid of possible note in President Obama’s long-expected nomination Monday of Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez to be secretary of labor is that Perez would be the first person of Dominican heritage — both parents were born in the Republic — to be named to a Cabinet job.

Most previous Latino Cabinet members have been of Mexican heritage, starting with Lauro Cavazos, Ronald Reagan’s nominee in 1988 to be secretary of education.

In 1989, the first President George Bush named Manuel Lujan to be secretary of the interior. Bill Clinton’s three Latino appointees were Federico Peña (Transportation and then Energy), Henry Cisneros (Housing and Urban Development) and Bill Richardson (Energy).

Bush II’s 2005 appointment of Cuban American Carlos Gutierrez as commerce secretary broke that string. Also that year, Bush named Alberto Gonzales, a Mexican American, to be his attorney general.

Obama’s outgoing interior secretary, Kenneth Salazar, is of Mexican heritage, and former labor secretary Hilda Solis’s parents came from Mexico and Nicaragua.

Another Mexican-born Cabinet member — you could even say the first one — was Richard Nixon’s secretary of housing and urban development, George Romney.

But, as Mitt Romney noted in his legendary “47 percent” speech, his father is not usually included in the ranks of Latinos in the Cabinet, because “he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico.”

The Perez pick could be big news in the Dominican Republic, though it will surely be eclipsed if the country’s baseball team makes it to the finals of the World Baseball Classic by beating the Netherlands on Monday and then beating Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

The right wavelength

When last we checked in on the Federal Communications Commission chairmanship, it seemed the White House was in no rush to replace Julius Genachowski as head of the agency.

But now it appears that Genachowski is eyeing the exits, and administration officials are busily lining up a successor.

The White House has interviewed several candidates whose names have been much discussed by those who closely track these things: venture capitalist Tom Wheeler; Assistant Commerce Secretary Larry Strickling; and Karen Kornbluh, ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

One under-the-radar candidate they’ve also talked to is former FCC official Cathy Sandoval , now a utilities commissioner in California.

It would seem that Sandoval, as a Hispanic woman, would be attractive to the White House, which has taken lumps for a lack of diversity among its high-ranking nominees. But word is that other contenders have closer ties to the White House — Wheeler, for example was a big donor to the Obama campaign— and are seen as more friendly to industry (that’s apparently a good thing).

So while Sandoval would be a choice that would satisfy some critics, she’s a long shot.

But whomever Obama settles on, it’s looking as though a choice will come sooner rather than later — the game is afoot.

No hard feelings

You might recall that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had a rather unpleasant Senate confirmation process.

Even though he was back among friends in his old stomping grounds, he was subjected to intense grilling, questions about his patriotism and a hearing in which his performance was roundly panned. Words such as “defensive,” “frustrated” and “lethargic” were used to describe it.

But the experience doesn’t appear to have left any deep scars on the tough guy — in fact, he’s even able to joke about it. During his ceremonial swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, during which Vice President Biden administered his oath of office, Hagel cracked this funny after thanking the crowd for the warm welcome and applause: “Last time I received something quite like this was in the United States Senate in my confirmation hearing.”

Of course, there was more laughter.

“I’m a better person for it,” Hagel concluded.

With Emily Heil

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

 
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