Confirmation hearings foreshadow future flash points between Obama, Congress
Most of the president-elect’s picks seem poised for easy votes – with a few exceptions.
Since George Washington’s day, the Senate has confirmed about 95 percent of presidential cabinet nominees. If hearings this week are any indication, President-elect Obama can expect at least that level of success.Skip to next paragraph
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Two, though, face tough questions over their past records. Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve, is likely to be grilled next week about $35,000 in tax liabilities and about a failure to file proper immigration forms for three housekeepers, including one whose US work authorization had expired.
Eric Holder, Mr. Obama’s pick for US attorney general, faced criticism Thursday over his role in controversial Clinton-era pardons.
A third nominee, Gov. Bill Richardson (D) of New Mexico, never made it to the Senate confirmation process, withdrawing from consideration because a federal grand jury had launched a corruption investigation into his dealings with a California-based company.
Obama’s other cabinet picks appear headed to easy confirmation votes.
Unlike positions on the federal bench – which have become the most bitterly contested nominations the US Senate considers – Cabinet seats are not lifetime appointments and, typically, are not subject to partisan wrangling.
“Senators feel presidents have a right to the advice they want, so tend to confirm them, especially if the president’s party is in the majority,” says Donald Ritchie, associate historian in the US Senate Historical Office. But flash points in a confirmation hearing can signal issues that may surface later in relations between Congress and the incoming administration.
For Republicans, the overriding concern in confirmation hearings so far is whether the Obama administration will commit to working with them to develop legislation. They also want assurances that the administration will be as responsive to their questions and requests for information as to those from majority Democrats. For GOP senators, who are within one or two votes of losing their ability to block bills they don’t like (depending on the outcome of the disputed Minnesota election), that concern is more than academic.
Republicans’ sharpest questions for former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, picked to run the Department of Health and Human Services, were about the level of openness he would have in working with their minority party. With healthcare reform a top priority of the next administration, Republicans want assurances that Democrats will work for a 70-, 80-, or 90-vote solution, not just a bare minority.