Lone Obama FEC Nominee Bemoans ‘Broken’ Confirmation Process

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Thursday, October 07, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Last week, my piece on the Federal Election Commission noted that despite the fact that three of the six members of the commission were serving well beyond their allotted terms, the Obama administration had only nominated a single replacement since taking office. Today, the Center for Public Integrity got in touch with Obama’s lone nominee, labor lawyer John J. Sullivan, who quietly informed the Senate that he was withdrawing his name from consideration this August after more than 15 months of waiting to be confirmed:

Eighteen months later, with no confirmation vote in sight, Sullivan says he realized “it didn’t seem likely the impasse was going to be resolved, and a confirmation didn’t seem in the offing in the foreseeable future.”

The impasse Sullivan mentions is a reference to the hold that was placed by Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) on his nomination, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. McCain and Feingold weren’t so much opposed to Sullivan as they were frustrated that the Obama administration had not chosen to nominate good replacements for all the commissioners whose terms had expired. But, here, the plot grows even thicker:

Why hasn’t Obama done so? Traditionally, nominees to the FEC are presented as a pair, replacing one Democratic and one Republican commissioner whose terms have expired. The White House almost always defers to the other party’s Senate leader to select his party’s nominee. But, as Sullivan explains, there was little movement by Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell toward giving President Obama a name to replace Commissioner Donald McGahn. Rather than breaking with that tradition and risking a major fight with the Senate GOP, Obama has refrained from nominating replacements for either.

Both McConnell’s intransigence and Obama’s lack of resolve could therefore be said to be guilty in perpetuating the ongoing regulatory breakdown on FEC, but so too is the horribly time-consuming structure of the Senate confirmation process itself, notes Sullivan:

“The problem with cloture,” he says, “is not the vote but the amount of floor time it takes in the Senate.” Sullivan says “it is an incredible distraction to occupy the Senate with a nomination like mine with so many other pressing matters on the floor.” Even if cloture is invoked with approval of at least 60 senators, Senate rules provide for 30 more hours of floor debate — precious time, especially given a full Senate docket that included health care, financial services, the budget, and two Supreme Court confirmations.

Indeed, if every presidential appointee requiring Senate confirmation had to be put to a cloture vote, the Senate would hardly have time for anything else. Faced with the prospect of fighting McConnell and wasting precious floor time in the Senate too, the Obama administration apparently chose to punt on the issue instead and let the FEC soldier on in its beleaguered state a little longer.

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