Will Reid break the judicial nomination logjam?

Al Kamen
Columnist March 8, 2012

The Senate’s vote Thursday on the massive transportation bill cleared the way for a move next week by Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to push through as many as 17 judicial nominees — an effort that could possibly tie up the chamber pretty much all the way to the two-week Easter recess that begins April 2.

Reid is trying to pull in enough GOP votes to get the 60 needed to bring the nominees to a vote, one at a time. He’s expected to move only folks supported last year by all or almost all of the eight Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee .

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

Unclear whether Reid’s going to omit a Utah nominee from the group — one of that state’s senators, Mike Lee , has been in the forefront of the GOP effort to block confirmations, an effort sparked by President Obama’s move in January to recess-appoint Richard Cordray to be consumer watchdog plus three people to the National Labor Relations Board.

Reid’s move, if it succeeds, would be great news for that group of judicial wannabes. But it’s not so good news for dozens of other nominees already on the Senate floor and hoping for confirmation — something that, even in the best of times, gets even dicier as summer approaches.

That list includes a number of senior positions, such as a deputy secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development; five people for the Energy Department, including an undersecretary and four assistant secretaries; a Treasury undersecretary; and an undersecretary and various assistant secretaries and ambassadors at the State Department.

The Senate did, however, recently approve two judges. And it’s likely a nominee for ambassador to, say, Burma would be approved, so no reason to abandon all hope.

We’re hearing that the White House, which called the recess maneuver essential to keep government agencies functioning, is not inclined to make more such appointments. A perusal of the list of nominees now on the Senate floor doesn’t appear to include anyone who would meet that criterion.

UNESCO follies

The four-year-long skirmishing at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization over whether to give a “life sciences ” award in the name of Equatorial Guinea “President” Teodoro Obiang Nguema , Africa’s longest-serving dictator, continues.

Obiang won the latest round, as a UNESCO board meeting in Paris on Thursday voted 33 to 19 to remove his name from the prize and replace it with his country’s name, thereby likely allowing the prize to be given.

The United States voted no, but African countries, an Arab bloc, and traditional democracies such as China, Cuba, Belarus, Pakistan and Russia voted in favor.

Human rights groups, Western democracies and prominent African leaders such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu had strongly objected to the award, noting that the State Department constantly slams Obiang for things like arbitrary arrest and detention and and judicial corruption.

But Obiang, who put up $3 million for the award (to be given over five years), kept trying, most recently taking his name off the award and just having the country’s name on it.

UNESCO kept stalling, hoping he would just go away or maybe might somehow be embarrassed by charges the money came from Obiang’s preposterous looting of the oil-rich country’s treasury.

Detractors cited a Justice Department effort to seize a $30 million Malibu mansion, a fleet of luxury cars, a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet, Michael Jackson clothing and other items owned by the dictator’s playboy son, who has a yearly salary of $81,000.

Just weeks ago French authorities, investigating alleged embezzlement, reportedly seized truckloads of art and antiquities said to be worth more than $50 million from the son’s six-floor mansion in a tony Paris neighborhood.

But, despite Thursday’s vote, the fight over the prize may not be over. Despite UNESCO’s inspired effort to discredit itself, the organization’s legal office has determined that legal problems related to the name change and other matters may make it impossible to award the prize.

Washington stopped paying $80 million in dues and contributions to UNESCO after the organization granted membership to the Palestinian Authority in October.

Thursday’s action sure isn’t going to help efforts to restore that funding.

Knows what he likes

There’s a new salvo in the ongoing turf war between the Federal Trade Commission and the chairman of the House transportation committee, John Mica .

Mica has long had his eye on the FTC headquarters’ primo real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue — space he thinks is perfect for a new wing of the National Gallery. This week, his committee passed a resolution directing the General Services Administration to produce a plan for the agency-for-museum switcheroo.

Meanwhile, the FTC is none too pleased with Mica’s latest maneuver — or with the underlying proposal, which calls for the commission to move to rented office space at the Constitution Center in Southwest Washington — and its commissioners fired off a letter to the committee to that effect. “To require the agency to move . . . would impose well over $100 million in wholly unnecessary costs,” the chairman and three commissioners wrote.

It’s unclear what impact the GSA’s report might have in this skirmish between an entrenched agency and the art-loving chairman, but the FTC isn’t taking chances, and clearly took care to cloak their argument in economic terms that are very much in vogue on Capitol Hill. “This unprecedented giveaway would be completely contrary to the interests of American taxpayers, especially in this time of fiscal austerity,” the commissioners wrote.

But Mica’s got his own ideas about what’s fiscally prudent — and like art and beauty, that just might be in the eye of the beholder.

In buckshot news . . .

Everyone knows to beware the ides of March. Local pheasants, however, should also be particularly mindful of their personal safety on March 13 — that’s the date of a hunting fundraiser in honor of Sen. Mark Warner , an event at which they are featured guests, though perhaps on the business end of the shotguns.

The Virginia Democrat is the beneficiary of the euphemistically titled “Pheasant Event 2012,” slated to be held at Bristol Mines Farm in King George, Va. Sort of like the St. Valentine’s Day “Event.”

Hunting excursions are a welcome break from the usual Beltway cocktails-and-canapes fundraising routine, what with all the fresh air, lovely scenery and wily wildlife. Just don’t tell Dick Cheney .

But the chance to bag some birds while rubbing elbows with the senator isn’t cheap: The price of admission is $2,000 for a “friend” and $5,000 to get the title of “co-host.”

With Emily Heil

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

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