Senate Confirms 7 Obama Cabinet Picks, but Clinton Is Kept on Hold
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The Senate approved seven of President Obama's Cabinet-level appointees yesterday but delayed a planned vote on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's confirmation to be secretary of state because of objections from a Republican member.
The delay, the result of a demand from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) for more financial information about former president Bill Clinton's charitable foundation, presented Obama with his first congressional roadblock just hours after he was sworn into office.
Although the delay on Clinton is not likely to last long -- the Senate is expected to hold a roll-call vote on her nomination today -- it is nonetheless a signal that the GOP minority in Congress will seek every opportunity to exert its will.
The seven nominees approved yesterday were Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Most of Obama's Cabinet choices were widely praised by lawmakers in both parties, but some of them, Clinton included, were the subject of questions that could not be resolved in the confirmation hearings that have taken place over the past 10 days.
Timothy F. Geithner, tapped by Obama to run the Treasury Department, was on the verge of coasting into office when the Senate Finance Committee discovered that the New York Federal Reserve president had paid nearly $43,000 in back taxes and penalties. He now faces a grilling when his delayed confirmation proceedings begin Wednesday.
The nominee for attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., faced rigorous questioning last week from Judiciary Committee members over his role in the pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich in the final days of the Clinton administration. Holder is expected to win Senate approval, but a final vote has not been scheduled.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will continue in his job and will not require Senate approval. But another high-profile Obama pick, former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle, will not become health and human services secretary in the short term, as members of the Finance Committee are taking longer than expected to review his tax records, according to a senior committee official.
Although Clinton's nomination was approved last week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 16 to 1, Cornyn objected to a voice vote that had been planned for yesterday afternoon. Cornyn said he wanted "a full and open debate" on what he considered potential conflicts of interests in her husband's foundation.
Cornyn and other Republicans have questioned the propriety of the spouse of the secretary of state accepting contributions from foreign sources and have asked that the former president swear off any such future donations and fully disclose the amounts and sources of past donations.
"Important questions remain unanswered concerning the Clinton Foundation and its acceptance of donations from foreign entities. Transparency transcends partisan politics and the American people deserve to know more," Cornyn said in a statement issued as the inauguration began.
The former president has agreed to disclose his overseas donors, but some Republicans have urged Sen. Clinton to amend the agreement to provide even greater and more timely disclosure.
Despite Cornyn's objections, Republican congressional officials said they expect many GOP senators to vote for her confirmation today. No other nominations are scheduled for consideration.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) urged his colleagues yesterday to move quickly to approve Obama's nominees. "It is up to us, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, to work as quickly as we can to confirm the worthy nominees so they, along with our president, can hit the ground running," he said.
Seven of President George W. Bush's Cabinet nominees won Senate approval immediately after he took office on Jan. 20, 2001. That list included Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, in addition to Bush's energy, education, commerce and agriculture picks.