Obama cabinet update: several confirmed but two nominees in trouble

It’s been a while since Bleeding Heartland covered the status of President Barack Obama’s cabinet nominees. Within the last week, senators have confirmed three nominees with little controversy. However, Republicans appear determined to block two highly-qualified appointees: Thomas Perez and Gina McCarthy.

Details on recent cabinet confirmation votes are after the jump, along with background on the latest to be confirmed, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  

Earlier this year, two cabinet nominees generated significant opposition before being confirmed: CIA Director John Brennan and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Since then, the nominees who have reached the Senate floor have had a smooth ride. In May, senators unanimously confirmed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

On June 19, senators confirmed Michael Froman as U.S. trade ambassador by 93 votes to 4, with only a handful of Democrats opposed. Froman got through the Senate quickly, roughly six weeks after being nominated.

On June 25, the Senate confirmed Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker by 97 votes to 1, with progressive Bernie Sanders of Vermont the only dissenter. Like Froman, Pritzker completed the confirmation process less than two months after being nominated, without facing any real scrutiny—though senators had plenty of grounds for concern.

Today the Senate confirmed Anthony Foxx as Transportation Secretary in a rare 100 to 0 roll call vote. I was a big fan of Ray LaHood, who headed the U.S. Department of Transportation during Obama’s first term. Foxx sounds like another excellent choice for this job. As mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, he oversaw huge investments in local transportation and struck a good balance, supporting public transit, bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly policies as well as new roads and an expansion of the airport. The Transportation for America coalition of groups supporting a more sustainable transportation policy had welcomed Foxx’s nomination.

We are delighted to see a mayor of one of our up-and-coming economic centers selected to provide national leadership on implementing the provisions of MAP-21 and laying the groundwork for what we hope will be a rejuvenated national program. As a metropolitan region in the booming Sun Belt, Charlotte has become a leader in embracing transportation innovations and high-quality public transportation as key building blocks of a prosperous economy.

The long recession and related budget woes, along with the trend of flattening gas tax receipts, have left states and localities struggling to meet the needs of a growing and diversifying population. As the elected head of a major city, Mayor Foxx is more likely than most to understand the issues facing localities and states.

Tanya Snyder of the DC Streets blog live-blogged Foxx’s confirmation hearing, and summed it up here. I liked a lot of what I read. I’m hopeful that Foxx will continue to support high-speed rail and other forms of alternate transportation. Getting Congress to fund those priorities will be more challenging.

Incidentally, some see Foxx as a potential future candidate for senator or governor of North Carolina.

Obama rolled out Foxx’s appointment at the end of April, but Republicans are still trying to block two cabinet nominees the president announced much earlier.

It’s been nearly four months since the president nominated the extremely qualified Gina McCarthy for top administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency. Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri put up the first roadblock within two weeks, and in early May, Republicans boycotted a hearing so that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee would not have a quorum to approve sending McCarthy’s nomination to the full Senate. McCarthy eventually got through that committee, but her nomination still hasn’t come up for a vote on the Senate floor. Republicans are threatening to block her confirmation, saying they want more documents and information from the EPA. Democrats say McCarthy “has answered more than 1,000 questions” during the process.

This week the president announced a new plan to combat climate changed and claimed that he is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many commentators immediately speculated that the climate change policies could make it even more difficult for McCarthy to be confirmed.

Amy Harder reported in the National Journal,

In his climate-change speech Tuesday, Obama went out of his way to praise his nominee, Gina McCarthy, who is currently the assistant administrator for air quality at EPA.

“Gina has worked for the EPA in my administration, but she’s also worked for five Republican governors,” Obama said. “She’s been held up for months, forced to jump through hoops no Cabinet nominee should ever have to-not because she lacks qualifications, but because there are too many in the Republican Party right now who think that the Environmental Protection Agency has no business protecting our environment from carbon pollution. The Senate should confirm her without any further obstruction or delay.”

Obama’s full-throttled defense of her in a major policy speech is a sign that the administration isn’t backing down on getting McCarthy through the Senate, even as Obama is headed for another clash with Republicans over directing EPA to move ahead on controversial rules controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he will try to schedule a vote on McCarthy’s confirmation after the July Fourth recess. Thomas Perez, Obama’s choice for Labor secretary, and Samantha Power, his nominee for U.N. Ambassador, are also still pending.

McCarthy’s confirmation is currently being held up by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who is frustrated with an interagency review process EPA is involved in. Blunt has said his problem is not with McCarthy, but with the administration more generally. Yet even if Blunt lifts his hold, McCarthy will still face the hurdle of getting enough votes for cloture.

As with McCarthy, Republicans have been vigorously fighting the Perez nomination to head the Department of Labor. Obama announced that nomination in mid-March. Republicans delayed committee consideration of Perez’s nomination, and while Perez was finally advanced to the Senate floor, no vote has been held. I expect Republicans to filibuster, despite warnings from Latino political advocates of a backlash against the GOP. Conservatives despise Perez for his past work on housing discrimination and voting rights.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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