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Gov: Presidential Appointments

Though the president receives most of the attention from the media and the public, he doesn't make laws. That's the job of Congress. The president implements those laws through federal agencies.

Unlike the president and Congress, those who work for federal agencies are not elected. The key positions are chosen by the president (and are referred to as the administration). The vast majority of those working for agencies are hired professionals in their field (i.e. transportation, public health, etc.). They are answerable directly to the president or agency head, rather than to the public.

Agencies still can be influenced. Major policy changes typically allow a period of time when citizens can provide their comments regarding the policy before it is implemented.

The president also appoints judges to federal courts - including the Supreme Court. We report on those appointments separately - in our Courts section.

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President: Donald Trump
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Senators sue to reverse Trump's AG appointment

2018-Nov-19By: Barry Shatzman

Three senators are suing the Trump administration to nullify the appoint of Matthew Whitaker to serve as acting attorney general.

President Donald Trump named Whitaker to replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump fired.

Whitaker not in any line of succession

The Constitution's Appointments Clause requires that all high-ranking officers of the United States be approved by the Senate.

Department of Justice (DOJ) policy provides for an order of succession for the attorney general role. The policy specifies the deputy attorney general would take over. If that isn't possible, then the associate deputy attorney general would assume the role. Both of those positions require Senate approval.

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act allows for appointments without Senate approval. That law states, however, that it only applies when there is no other procedure in place.

Whitaker - who was Sessions' chief of staff - has not received Senate consent for any office within the government, "let alone the highest office in the DOJ", the lawsuit by Senators Richard Blumenthal, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Mazzie Hirono states.

Impacts of Whitaker's appointment

Senate consent is especially relevant in Whitaker's case, the complaint says, due to his affiliation with a company being investigated for fraud and his public comments criticizing the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller - an investigation he now oversees.

Any subpoenas or indictments Mueller seeks to issue now need to be approved by Whitaker.

Have indictments already been filed?

It's possible that Mueller already may have filed sealed indictments.

It isn't known what's in a sealed indictment - or even if it's part of the Mueller investigation - until it's unsealed. However, an unusually large number of sealed indictments have been filed in the District of Columbia District Court this year - including 14 in the past three months.

Once an indictment has been filed, a judge's approval is required to withdraw it.

Sessions fired - Replacement may be illegal appointment

2018-Nov-08By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

President Donald Trump has fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, replacing him with a man who has repeatedly criticized the Trump-Russia investigation that he will oversee.

The firing came a day after Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, giving them the opportunity to subpoena witnesses and documents in the Russia probe and other Trump administration scandals.

Trump has been hostile to Sessions since March 2017, when Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. Trump wanted Sessions to protect him, and saw the recusal as disloyal. At least four times, he pressured Sessions to reclaim control of the investigation.

Sessions' replacement unusual and possibly unconstitutional

Trump has appointed Sessions' chief of staff Matthew Whitaker to replace Sessions until a successor is appointed and confirmed by the Senate.

The decision is unusual in that normally the Deputy Attorney General would take over. In this case, that would be Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia investigation due to Sessions' recusal.

The appointment of Whitaker also might be legally problematic because his position as chief of staff is not one that required Senate confirmation - potentially violating the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and the Constitution's Appointments Clause.

Whitaker also may be obliged to recuse himself

There also are questions about whether Whitaker, like Sessions, may be obliged to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation because of his past statements and relationships.

Whitaker has repeatedly criticized the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign's possible conspiracy with Russia in the 2016 presidential election. Among other things, he defended Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton during the campaign, and he wrote that Mueller's investigation was "going too far."

Whitaker also served as campaign chairman for Sam Clovis in his unsuccessful 2014 bid for Iowa treasurer. Clovis is a key grand jury witness in the Mueller probe.

In the early days of the Trump administration, he concluded in an interview, "The truth is, there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign."


Whitaker's statement appears at 1:30.

Whitaker even has a plan to end the Mueller investigation

In a 2017 interview, he said, "So I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced, it would recess appointment and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt."

Whitaker reportedly has no plans to recuse himself from the Russia probe.

Other issues

Whitaker, a former federal prosecutor, served on the advisory board of a Miami patent-marketing firm that was shut down in May and fined $25 million for allegedly deceiving clients. In a 2015 email, Whitaker used his former job title as U.S. attorney in Iowa to threaten one of the clients with "serious civil and criminal consequences" if the client filed a complaint against the firm.

Nikki Haley to resign as UN Ambassador

2018-Oct-09By: Barry Shatzman

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said she'll resign at the end of this year.

Scott Pruitt leaves legacy of graft, undermining EPA

2018-Jul-06  (Updated: 2018-Jul-09)By: Rob Dennis

Scott Pruitt has resigned as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Throughout his tenure, Pruitt tried to weaken the agency and to roll back regulations protecting the environment. Among other things, he:

o Pushed to cut the agency's budget by more than a fifth, eliminating dozens of programs.

o Overturned or began rolling back 76 environmental rules initiated by the Barack Obama administration.

o Delayed the implementation of other Obama-era rules, including those related to air pollutionclean water, and chemical safety.

o Announced that the agency will weaken car-emissions standards.

o Hid a study about the dangers of contaminated tap water.

o Reversed a ban on an insecticide that the agency previously found damages children's brains.

The rigidly-defined process for enacting regulations, however, has thwarted many of Pruitt's attempts to weaken the EPA.

Pruitt fought against the EPA before being named to lead it

As an Oklahoma state senator, Pruitt was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and received more than $270,000 in donations from the oil and gas industry. As Oklahoma's state attorney general, he filed several lawsuits against the EPA.

To this day, in his LinkedIn profile, Pruitt claims to be "a leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda."

He also leaves a legacy of corruption

Pruitt resigned amid more than a dozen investigations into alleged corruption and mismanagement as EPA head. They include:

o Renting a condo from the wife of a prominent energy lobbyist for $50 a night, only paying for the nights he stayed there. While Pruitt was renting the condo, the EPA approved a pipeline-expansion plan by one of the lobbyist's clients.

o Buying a $43,000 soundproof booth to conduct private phone calls

o Using an EPA aide to try to buy a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

o Using an EPA aide to try to get a Chick-fil-A franchise for Pruitt's wife.

o Buying a dozen fountain pens for more than $1,500.

Fossil-fuel lobbyist currently filling Pruitt's former EPA role

President Trump will need to name a new EPA administrator, who must be confirmed by the Senate. Until then, the agency's interim head is Andrew Wheeler.

Wheeler is a former aide to Sen. James Inhofe, an outspoken climate-change denier.

Wheeler later earned more than $700,000 as a lobbyist, mainly for the fossil-fuel industry. His top client, coal company Murray Energy, paid him to lobby against the Obama administration's regulations.

Who is head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?

2017-Nov-27  (Updated: 2018-Jan-10)By: Barry Shatzman

Hours before Richard Cordray resigned as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), he named his chief of staff, Leandra English, to be the CFPB's deputy director. So when Cordray left office, it was expected that English would become acting director.

English has worked intermittently for the agency since its creation in 2010.

President Donald Trump, however, named Mick Mulvaney to fill Cordray's vacancy.

Mulvaney has said he would like to eliminate the CFPB - disparaging it for regulating banks it was created to regulate.

While a member of Congress, Mulvaney told a reporter from the Credit Union Times, that the CFPB not being accountable to Congress "makes it very difficult for us to advocate on behalf of your industry."

In that same 2014 interview, he said "It turns up being a joke. And that's what the CFPB really has been - in a sick sad kind of way, because you've got an institution that has tremendous authority over what you all do for a living, over your businesses, over your members."

So who's the acting director?

According to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act - the law that created the agency - the role is to be filled by the deputy director until a replacement is named by the president and confirmed by the Senate. That means English.

The Trump administration's legal counsel agreed on the law. Page one of a memo to the White House said that, under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA), the president normally would be able to appoint an acting head - unless another statute calls for a different way. And that the law creating the CFPB has such a statute. That would allow English to become the CFPB director.

On the same page, it goes on to say that the resignation of the director would satisfy the requirement of "absence or unavailability". "Therefore, the statute would permit a properly appointed Deputy Director to serve as the Acting Director during a vacancy," the memo said.

The remaining seven pages, however, inject ambiguity into that opinion, including...

o The meaning of the phrase "absence or unavailability" - since the previous director left and therefore is technically neither

o Without other statues, the FVRA is the exclusive means of filling a vacancy. But if there are other statutes, the president still can choose to use it.

o The president could fire the acting director without cause anyway, since that acting director had not been confirmed by the Senate and therefore does not have the same protections.

o If the law that created the CFPB intended to forbid use of the FVRA, it would have explicitly said so.

Mick Mulvaney became the CFPB's acting director.

Update 2018-Jan-10: A federal judge denied an injunction to remove Mulvaney as the CFPB acting director. English has appealed the decision.

Federal judge nominee has conflicts of interest, little experience

2017-Nov-13By: Barry Shatzman

The 36-year-old attorney nominated by President Trump for a federal district judge in Alabama has practiced law for only 3 years and has never tried a case.

And that might be the least interesting thing about Brett J. Talley's nomination.

When asked on a Senate questionnaire to identify family members that could cause a conflict of interest, Talley did not list anyone.

His wife, Annie Donaldson, is a senior attorney in the Trump administration.

If confirmed as a federal judge, Talley could find himself ruling on issues directly related to policies announced by Trump.

Despite his lack of experience and straightforwardness, Talley has provided clues as to how he might rule in cases. For more than a decade he is believed to have posted candid thoughts on several issues that could come before him. Though the posts were written under the pseudonymBamainBoston, the poster left indications that he was, in fact, Talley.

On the chance that an innocent person might be executed, BamainBoston wrote "...death row cases with an actual innocence claim are kind of like abortions based on rape, incest, or the life of the mother. They certainly happen, but the whole debate shouldn't turn on them."

BamainBoston also has written to defend the first leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

If confirmed by the Senate, this would be a lifetime appointment.

Senate confirms former Eli Lilly exec to head HHS

2017-Nov-13  (Updated: 2018-Jan-24)By: Barry Shatzman

Update 2018-Jan-24: The Senate confirmed Azar by a vote of 55-43. Click here to view the vote.

President Trump has named Alex M. Azar II to become Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).

He would replace Tom Price, who resigned in September.

Azar is the former executive with pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. He also is an attorney who served as general counsel and deputy secretary for HHS in the George W. Bush administration.

HHS Secretary Tom Price resigns

2017-Sep-29By: Barry Shatzman

Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price has resigned.

Price - a former member of Congress had been pointed out by President Trump as a key person in Congressional Republicans' failed attempts to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Price's resignation letter didn't list a reason. Some have presumed it has to do with his use of government jets - costing about $1 million of public money. "I don't like the optics," Trump said just before Price resigned.

Yet, Trump pushed for Price's confirmation to be HHS secretary even as Congress questioned him about stock deals he made for companies that would be affected by legislation he was involved in writing.

Senate will prevent Trump appointments while on break

2017-Aug-03By: Barry Shatzman

The Senate is on vacation until after Labor Day. But a few senators are sticking around to make sure President Trump doesn't make any appointments while they're gone.

Appointments normally require Senate confirmation. The Constitution allows for confirmation to be bypassed, however, if the appointment is made while the Senate is not in session. The procedure is known as a recess appointment.

To prevent recess appointments, the Senate will hold pro forma sessions every few days. This sessions, attended by only a handful of Senators , can last less than a minute.

These short sessions also have been used to prevent presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama from making appointments that would avoid the Senate's approval process.

Trump cabinet members to speak at ALEC event

2017-Jul-19By: Rob Dennis

Three members of President Donald Trump's cabinet will speak this week at a conference for the ultraconservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta will attend the group's annual meeting in Denver. DeVos will speak at the meeting on Thursday, according to her public schedule. ALEC announced last week that Zinke and Acosta also will attend the conference.

Half of the Trump cabinet, as well as Vice President Mike Pence, have ties to ALEC, which writes state laws to benefit its corporate sponsors.

The group has written "model legislation" used as the basis for controversial state laws, including Voter IDSchool Choice, anti-regulation, anti-minimum wage and Right-to-Work bills.

ALEC's corporate funders include brothers Charles and David Koch, ExxonMobil, PhRMA, UPS, AT&T and Pfizer.

DeVos is a former chair of the American Federation for Children(AFC), an ALEC member that has worked with the group to draft model legislation.

Zinke's record shows support of policies that are friendly to corporate interests. He has supported a balanced budget Constitutional amendment for which ALEC has written model legislation.

FBI nominee has ties to Christie, Russia

2017-Jun-07By: Rob Dennis

President Donald Trump's choice for FBI director is an attorney who has represented New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the 2013 Bridgegate scandal and "an energy company president in a criminal investigation by Russian authorities."

Christopher Wray served as the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's criminal division from 2003 to 2005, overseeing cases including the Enron investigation.

Wray served as Christie's personal attorney during the trial of Christie staff members who colluded in the Bridgegate scandal - in which lanes were closed on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge resulting in traffic gridlock - to politically punish the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie in that year's gubernatorial election. Christie was not charged with a crime.

Wray and Christie also worked together during the Bush administration, when Christie was a U.S. attorney.

The law firm where Wray currently is a partner - King & Spalding - has consulted with Russian state-owned energy giant Rosneft, whose CEO Igor Sechin is considered a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Wray has represented "an energy company president in a criminal investigation by Russian authorities," according to a biography on his firm's website that has been taken down.

Wray has donated at least $35,000 to Republican candidates since 2008, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Wray would replace James Comey, who was fired by Trump in May. Trump acknowledged he fired Comey partly because of "this Russia thing," a reference to the FBI's ongoing investigation into possible collusion by Trump associates with Russia.  

Trump fires FBI director leading probe against him

2017-May-09  (Updated: 2017-May-10)By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

President Trump has fired Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey, who was leading the criminal investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the election.

In the letter telling Comey he was fired, Trump said, "While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein outlined Comey's much-criticized actions in July and October regarding the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server. Yet as recently as May 3, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president had confidence in Comey.

Neither Rosenstein nor Attorney General Jeff Sessions mentioned the Trump-Russia investigation in memos recommending Comey's dismissal.

But Comey's firing comes as the investigation into Trump's and his associates' dealings with Russia continues to escalate.

In the hours leading up to the firing, CNN learned of grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn - who resigned less than a month into the administration after meetings he had with Russian officials were revealed.

The firing of Comey has parallels to the infamous Saturday Night Massacre, when President Richard Nixon dismissed independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox while he was investigating Nixon's role in the Watergate scandal.

Senate confirms Alexander Acosta for Secretary of Labor

2017-Feb-16  (Updated: 2017-Apr-27)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Apr-27: The Senate confirmed Acosta by a vote of 60-38. Click here to view the vote.

President Trump has nominated Alexander Acosta to be Secretary of Labor, a day after first choice Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration.

Acosta is dean of the Florida International University law school. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito when he was a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He served on the National Labor Relations Board under President George W. Bush, as the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, and as U.S. attorney in Miami.

Acosta has a mixed record of experiences he would bring to the position.

The son of Cuban immigrants, Acosta serves on the American Bar Association's Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities. He has defended the rights of Muslim Americans, including criticizing France when it introduced a ban on certain religious attire.

While at the Justice Department, Acosta wrote a letter to a federal judge in Ohio supporting a Republican voter caging effort just before the 2004 presidential election. Bush won Ohio.

When running the Justice Department's civil rights division, he was found by the department's inspector general to have ignored warnings about a subordinate accused of illegally using political affiliations to vet potential civil rights attorneys.

As U.S. attorney for Southern Florida, Acosta gave a plea deal to billionaire investor and political donor Jeffrey Epstein, who was accused of having sex with dozens of underage girls. Under the plea, Epstein served about a year in prison. Epstein was a member of Mar-A-Lago - Trump's Florida home and golf club.

"I've known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,'' Trump told New York Magazine in 2002. "He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it - Jeffrey enjoys his social life."

Andrew Puzder withdraws from Labor Secretary consideration

2017-Feb-15By: Rob Dennis

Labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder has withdrawn his name from consideration a day before his Senate confirmation hearing was to begin.

Several Republican senators had said they would not support Puzder, the Washington Post reported.

New FCC chair opposes net neutrality, supports media mergers

2017-Jan-23By: Barry Shatzman

President Trump has chosen Federal Communications Commission (FCC) member Ajit Pai to become the agency's new chair.

Pai has been opposed to net neutrality and is a supporter of media company mergers.

Senate confirms Sonny Perdue for Secretary of Agriculture

2017-Jan-19  (Updated: 2017-Apr-24)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Apr-24: The Senate confirmed Perdue by a vote of 87-11. Click here to view the vote.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to be Secretary of Agriculture.  

Perdue grew up on a farm and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Georgia.

He was worth more than $6 million and owned agriculture businesses worth nearly $2.8 million at the time of his last run for governor in 2006, according to a financial disclosure statement. He received more than $278,000 in farm subsidies from 1995 to 2004, according to the Environmental Working Group.

He served in the state Senate from 1990 to 2001, switching his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1998. He served as governor from 2003 to 2011, the first Republican elected governor of Georgia since 1868.

As governor, Perdue signed into law measures based on American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation, including the nation's second voter ID law and a school-choice program described by ALEC co-founder Paul Weyrich as "the most expansive in the nation."  

Senate confirms David Shulkin for Secretary of Veterans Affairs

2017-Jan-11  (Updated: 2017-Feb-13)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Feb-13: The Senate unanimously confirmed Shulkin

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Dr. David Shulkin to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Shulkin has served as the VA undersecretary for health since March 2015.

Previously, he worked for five years as president of the Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey and four years as president and CEO of the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. He also has worked as the chief medical officer at Temple University Hospital in the University of Pennsylvania Health System and vice dean of the  Drexel University School of  Medicine in Philadelphia. He founded DoctorQuality, a medical software company.

He would be the first VA secretary who hasn't served in the military, and the first member of Trump's cabinet to have served in the Obama administration.

Ethics office concerned over rapid confirmation hearings

2017-Jan-07By: Barry Shatzman

The new Congress has set a very fast pace for confirming President-Elect Donald Trump's cabinet appointees. That has the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) concerned that it won't have enough time to fully evaluate their financial disclosures.

The Ethics in Government Act requires these disclosures as a way to identify issues such as conflicts of interest.

Senate confirms Jay Clayton to head SEC

2017-Jan-04  (Updated: 2017-May-02)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-May-2: The Senate confirmed Clayton by a vote of 61-37. Click here to view the vote.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Jay Clayton to be chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Clayton, an attorney, has no government experience.

He is a partner with the law firm Sullivan and Cromwell, which has represented Wall Street banks that he now will be in charge of regulating. That meant sometimes defending them against federal agencies such as the Department of Justice, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHSA). And the SEC.

Clayton's clients have included Barclays Capital, Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs.

Trump has selected three former Goldman bankers for top positions in his administration - Steve Mnuchin as treasury secretary, Gary Cohn as director of the National Economic Council, and Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor.

In a video about cybersecurity prepared by Sullivan and Cromwell in 2015, Clayton criticized banking regulations such as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.


Clayton's comments run from 5:48 to 7:14.
Since posting this video, it has been made private.

Senate confirms Robert Lighthizer for U.S. Trade Rep.

2017-Jan-03  (Updated: 2017-May-11)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-May-11: The Senate confirmed Lighthizer by a vote of 82-14. Click here to view the vote.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated international trade lawyer Robert Lighthizer to be U.S. Trade Representative.

Lighthizer, who served as deputy U.S. trade representative during the Reagan administration, has worked for three decades as an attorney representing heavy manufacturing, agricultural and tech companies. He worked on the behalf of U.S. steel companies to keep foreign steel out of the United States.

He has opposed free trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Lighthizer has criticized China's trade policies and called for tariffs on foreign imports.

Lighthizer's trade views match those of Trump and his nominee to head the newly created White House National Trade Council, Peter Navarro. An economics professor at the University of California, Irvine, Navarro co-authored the book Death by China and wrote and directed a documentary film of the same name.

Navarro co-authored a report on Trump's economic plan in September with Wilbur Ross, the nominee for commerce secretary who is expected to play a lead role on trade.

Senate confirms Rep. Mick Mulvaney to direct OMB

2016-Dec-16  (Updated: 2017-Feb-16)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Feb-16: The Senate confirmed Mulvaney by a vote of 51-49. Click here to view the vote.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Rep. MIck Mulvaney to be director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Mulvaney, who has represented South Carolina's 5th Congressional District since 2011, has consistently advocated deep reductions in federal spending. He has voted to cut Medicare benefits, including...

o He voted yes on the Protecting Seniors' Access to Medicare Act (which does not do what its name implies).

o He voted against the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, which prevented deep cuts to doctor reimbursement and extended the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

o He did not vote on the NOTICE Act, which requires hospitals to notify Medicare patients of their admission status - something that can affect what treatments are covered.

He supported shutting down the government in 2013 and 2015 in an effort to de-fund the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood.

He opposes any increase to the nation's debt ceiling.

Mulvaney has called for a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Senate confirms Rep. Ryan Zinke for Secretary of Interior

2016-Dec-15  (Updated: 2017-Mar-01)By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

Update 2017-Mar-01: The Senate confirmed Zinke by a vote of 68-31. Click here to view the vote.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Rep. Ryan Zinke to be Secretary of the Interior.

Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL, has represented Montana in the House of Representatives since last year. Before that, he served in the Montana state Senate from 2009 to 2011.

Zinke would be in charge of a department that manages millions of acres of public land through the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies.

His record shows support of policies that are counter to the department's mission.

As a candidate for Montana Lt. Governor in 2012, Zinke is said to have signed the Montana Voter and Candidate Pledge. The pledge, among other things, demands opposition to Department of Interior agencies. Zinke has not acknowledged or denied signing the pledge. He has claimed that he doesn't remember signing it.

The oil and gas industry has contributed more than $345,000 to Zinke, who supports opening up public lands to oil and gas drilling.

The League of Conservation Voters has given Zinke a lifetime score of 3 percent. Zinke has supported...

o The Keystone XL pipeline.
o Limiting the president's ability to protect public lands by declaring them national monuments.
o Weakening protections for endangered species.
o A balanced budget Constitutional amendment.
o Prohibiting funding for a Department of Defense directive that would require the DoD to consider climate change in its plans.

His actions on climate change contradict his 2010 position in which he cosigned a letter to President Obama and Congress calling for "comprehensive clean energy jobs and climate change legislation." The letter also stated...

"Our nation's most respected military leaders recognize that climate change is a threat multiplier for instability in the most volatile regions of the world. The climate change threat presents significant national security challenges for the United States - challenges that should be addressed today, because they will almost certainly get worse if we delay."

He now claims to be skeptical of Global Warming. In a 2014 Congressional debate, he said "It's not a hoax, but it's not proven science either."

Senate confirms Rick Perry for Energy Secretary

2016-Dec-13  (Updated: 2017-Mar-02)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Mar-02: The Senate confirmed Perry by a vote of 62-37. Click here to view the vote.

Oops.

Donald Trump has nominated a guy who wants to eliminate the Energy Department - and who once famously could not remember its name - to run it.

The president-elect has named former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, to be secretary of energy.

Perry is perhaps best known for his oops moment during a 2011 Republican presidential debate...



The agency he could not recall turned out to be the Energy Department.

Perry was governor of Texas from 2000 to 2015, and before that served as the state's agriculture commissioner. He has no experience with nuclear weapons, an area that makes up much of the department's responsibilities and about 60 percent of its budget.

"Despite its name, the department plays the leading role in designing nuclear weapons, thwarting their proliferation, and ensuring the safety and reliability of the nation's aging nuclear arsenal through a constellation of laboratories considered the crown jewels of government science," the New York Times reports.

The last two energy secretaries had doctorates in physics. One had received a Nobel prize. Perry has a bachelor's degree in animal science.

Perry, along with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, spoke at the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) annual conference in July, 2016.

A 2011 analysis by ThinkProgress found that 10 of then-governor Perry's initiatives "mirror ALEC model legislation or policy recommendations from ALEC's state affiliate."

ALEC's "energy principles"...

o State that "global climate change is inevitable"
o Oppose government mandates that "limit or dictate energy choices"
o Encourage the expansion of access to North American fossil fuel reserves

ALEC also has opposed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan.

Trump's nominee for EPA administrator, Oklahoma Attorney General and ALEC member Scott Pruitt, has sued the agency over the plan.

Trump fires Sec. of State Tillerson

2016-Dec-12  (Updated: 2018-Mar-13)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2018-Mar-13: President Trump announced that he has fired Tillerson. For more, read the Washington Post story..

Update 2017-Feb-1: The Senate confirmed Tillerson by a vote of 56-43. Click here to view the vote.

Original story on Tillerson's nomination...
President-elect Donald Trump has nominated ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State.

Tillerson joined Exxon as an engineer in 1975 and has spent his entire career there. He has no government or diplomatic experience.

He does, however, have strong business ties to leaders around the world, most notably Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two first met in 1999, while Tillerson was responsible for Exxon's holdings in Russia.

In 2011, five years after Tillerson became Exxon CEO, the company signed an agreement to explore and drill in the arctic and Siberia with oil company Rosneft, which is majority owned by the Russian government. The deal - which could generate up to $500 billion for Exxon - was put on hold because of U.S. and European Union sanctions against Russia for its invasion of the Ukraine.

The State Department helps decide on and administer sanctions.

ExxonMobil has given nearly $2 million to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) since 1998. Exxon representative Cynthia Bergman has a seat on ALEC's Private Enterprise Advisory Council.

Trump himself has business ties to Russia dating back to the 1980s. His son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008 that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. ... We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

Senate confirms Linda McMahon to direct SBA

2016-Dec-09  (Updated: 2017-Feb-14)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Feb-14: The Senate confirmed McMahon by a vote of 81-19. Click here to view the vote.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon to be administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA).

McMahon and her husband, Vince, took over the World Wrestling Federation, which later became the WWE, from Vince's father and built it into a multibillion-dollar corporate empire.

Trump argued that Linda McMahon "helped grow WWE from a modest 13-person operation." However, at the time the couple took over, the company already controlled wrestling in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast region, and was hosting shows at New York's Madison Square Garden, the Huffington Post reports. They developed the company into a virtual monopoly by eliminating smaller competitors, according to the report.

Trump said his agenda will "roll back the burdensome regulations that are hurting our middle class workers and small businesses". As WWE chief executive from 1997 to 2009, McMahon dealt with avoiding regulations. The corporation spent $400,000 lobbying state legislatures to deregulate wrestling, allowing it to avoid drug-testing standards and fees imposed by state athletic commissions.

The company also spent at least $1 million in federal lobbying.

McMahon donated $7 million to pro-Trump Super PACs during his presidential campaign.

Trump has been involved with McMahon's WWE, as this video shows...

Trump nominates Andrew Puzder for Labor secretary

2016-Dec-08By: Rob Dennis

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Andrew Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc., to be Secretary of Labor.

CKE runs fast-food chains that include Carl's Jr. and Hardee's. As CEO, Puzder has strongly opposed minimum-wage increases, saying they lead to fewer employment opportunities.

Puzder is a board member of the International Franchise Association (IFA), which advocates for laws and policies favorable to the industry.

The IFA has...

o Opposed efforts to make it easier for workers to unionize

o Fought to delay the employer mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and repeal the provision requiring businesses to provide health insurance for employees who work 30 hours a week. Read the introductory letter of their 2014 Annual Report.

o Sued Seattle in 2014 to try to block the city from treating franchises as large businesses under its new $15-an-hour minimum-wage law.

The IFA also is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Senate confirms John Kelly for Homeland Security

2016-Dec-07  (Updated: 2017-Jan-20)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Jan-20: The Senate has confirmed Kelly by a vote of 88-11. Click here to view the vote.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated retired four-star Marine Gen. John Kelly to be Secretary of Homeland Security.

Kelly served in the military for more than 40 years before stepping down in February as commander of the U.S. Southern Command, responsible for military activities in South America and Central America, including the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. He opposed President Barack Obama's plans to close the facility.

Previously, Kelly served as the senior military assistant to defense secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta. His son, 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

Senate confirms Scott Pruitt to head EPA

2016-Dec-07  (Updated: 2017-Feb-17)By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

Update 2017-Feb-17: The Senate confirmed Pruitt by a vote of 52-46. Click here to view the vote.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Pruitt proclaims a skepticism of global warming. In a 2016 National Review editorial regarding EPA regulation of coal-fired power plants, he wrote...

"(The global warming) debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind."

In his LinkedIn profile, Pruitt claims to be "a leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda". He is one of a dozen attorneys general (all Republican) who teamed up with energy companies to battle environmental regulations - including filing several lawsuits against the EPA. Among the lawsuits...

o Pruitt (along with a group that represents oil and other industrial companies) sued the EPA to challenge the Regional Haze Rule, which would have required privately-held utility companies to fix their coal-burning power plants to reduce haze in the air. (State of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers v. US EPA).

o Pruitt joined a lawsuit against the EPA over its Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, and its regulations to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. (Murray Energy Corporation v. US EPA)

o Pruitt sued the Department of the Interior (DOI) because the agency was considering adding animals to the Endangered Species List, which an oil industry executive said would eliminate valuable places to tap for oil and gas.

o Pruitt was part of EME Homer City Generation v. EPA, challenging the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which limits polluted air from blowing from one state to another.

Pruitt, a former state senator and member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has received more than $270,000 in donations from the oil and gas industry since 2002.

Senate confirms Ben Carson for HUD secretary

2016-Dec-05  (Updated: 2017-Mar-02)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Mar-02: The Senate confirmed Carson by a vote of 58-41. Click here to view the vote.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Among HUD's stated missions are to "meet the need for quality affordable rental homes... (in) inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination."

Carson, however, criticized both an Obama administration rule aiming to desegregate housing and a Supreme Court decision that housing policies that have the effect of discrimination violate the 1968 Fair Housing Act even if they don't explicitly discriminate.

Carson has no government or housing-policy experience. Last month, a Carson spokesman told The Hill that Carson wouldn't serve in the Trump administration because he "feels he has no government experience, he's never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency."

Senate confirms James Mattis for Defense Secretary

2016-Dec-01  (Updated: 2017-Jan-20)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Jan-20: The Senate has confirmed Mattis with a 98-1 vote. Click here to view the vote. President Trump earlier had signed a bill Congress passed granting Mattis an exception to the law prohibiting someone from being Defense Secretary if they had served in the military durning the prior 7 years.

President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated James Mattis to be Secretary of Defense.

Mattis is a retired Marine Corps general who last served as chief of the U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013. He had previously led combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Since his retirement, Mattis has worked as a paid speaker for FWA Consultants, and has been a member of the board of directors of defense contractor General Dynamics.  

Federal law forbids defense secretaries from having served in the military within the previous seven years. Congress can waive the requirement for a nominee, but that has happened only once, in 1950, for retired Army Gen. George C. Marshall.

Senate confirms Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary

2016-Nov-30  (Updated: 2017-Feb-13)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Feb-13: The Senate confirmed Mnuchin by a vote of 53-47. Click here to view the vote.

President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated Steve Mnuchin to be Secretary of the Treasury.

Mnuchin runs Dune Capital, a privately owned hedge fund. Prior to that he worked for 17 years at Goldman Sachs investment bank, where he was a partner. He has no government experience.

In 2009, Mnuchin led the group that bought failed subprime lender IndyMac, renaming the bank OneWest. Over the next six years, Mnuchin and his fellow investors doubled their money. During that time the bank foreclosed on more than 35,000 mortgages - forcing families from their homes. Federal regulators charged the bank with filing false documents during foreclosures, and a judge accused it of "harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive" practices.

Mnuchin also was the executive producer of movies American Sniper and Mad Max: Fury Road.

Update 2017-Jan-19:
Mnuchin failed to disclose $100 million in assets on disclosure documents required by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). He also did not mention his role as a director of an investment fund located in a tax haven.

Senate confirms Elaine Chao for Transportation Secretary

2016-Nov-29  (Updated: 2017-Jan-31)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Jan-31: The Senate confirmed Chao by a vote of 93-6. Click here to view the vote.

President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Transportation.

Chao was Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush. She previously had worked as a banker and then served as head of the Peace Corps, Deputy Secretary of Transportation, and CEO of the United Way of America. She also was a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.  

As labor secretary, Chao cut mine safety inspections before the 2006 Sago and 2007 Crandall Canyon mine disasters, in which 15 miners and rescue workers died.

The Government Accountability Office also found the Labor Department under Chao had inadequately investigated claims from workers over their employers failing to pay minimum wage or overtime pay.  

After her tenure as labor secretary, Chao returned to the Heritage Foundation, served on a number of corporate and nonprofit boards, and became a Fox News contributor.

Chao is married to Sen. Mitch McConnell.  

Senate confirms Rep. Tom Price for HHS

2016-Nov-28  (Updated: 2017-Feb-10)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Feb-10: The Senate confirmed Price by a vote of 52-47. Click here to view the vote.

President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated Rep. Tom Price to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Price is an orthopedic surgeon who has represented Georgia's 6th Congressional District since 2004, and chairs the House Budget Committee.

He has introduced legislation to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and supports privatizing Medicare. He has voted against providing federal funding to health-care plans that cover abortions, and has argued that health insurance shouldn't pay for birth control. 

Price is a former member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). He also is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group consisting of conservative physicians. According to a 2009 Mother Jones magazine report...

o The group's "statement of principles declares that it is 'evil' and 'immoral' for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid."

o An article on the group's website "speculated that Barack Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters, especially cohorts known to be susceptible to 'neurolinguistic programming' - that is, according to the writer, young people, educated people, and possibly Jews."

Senate confirms Nikki Haley for U.N. Ambassador

2016-Nov-23  (Updated: 2017-Jan-24)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Jan-24: The Senate confirmed Haley by a vote of 96-4. Click here to view the vote.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley served in the South Carolina State House of Representatives for six years. She was elected governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

Haley has little foreign policy experience. As governor, she signed a law blocking a boycott movement against some Israeli companies. Approximately a dozen other states have enacted a similar laws - a policy backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Haley is a former member of ALEC.

Senate confirms Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary

2016-Nov-23  (Updated: 2017-Feb-07)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Feb-7: The Senate confirmed DeVos. The vote in the Senate was tied 50-50, meaning that Vice President Mike Pence was needed to cast the tie-breaking vote. Click here to view the vote.

President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education.

DeVos has no professional education experience. She is a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

She chaired the American Federation for Children, a dark money group that supports school voucher programs and charter schools nationwide, funneling donations from undisclosed sources to candidates who support school privatization, mostly at the state level. 

DeVos' father, Edgar Prince, co-founded the Family Research Council and the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, major financial backers of the religious right. Her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., is heir to the Amway multi-level marketing company fortune. The couple founded the Windquest Group investment firm.

DeVos and her relatives - including her brother Erik Prince, co-founder of the Blackwater private security company - have been major donors to the Republican Party for decades.

Senate confirms Sen. Jeff Sessions for Atty General

2016-Nov-18  (Updated: 2017-Feb-08)By: Barry Shatzman

Update 2017-Feb-8: The Senate confirmed Sessions. Click here to view the vote.

President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General.

In 1986, the Senate rejected Sessions for a federal judgeship after testimony that he had made several racial comments.

In 2005, the Senate passed an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act of 2006 to prevent torture by the U.S. military. Sessions was one of nine senators voting against the amendment.

Senate confirms Wilbur Ross for Commerce Secretary

2016-Nov-17  (Updated: 2017-Feb-27)By: Rob Dennis

Update 2017-Feb-27: The Senate confirmed Ross by a vote of 72-27. Click here to view the vote.

President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated Wilbur Ross to be Secretary of Commerce.

Ross is a billionaire who made his fortune buying and selling distressed assets - from steel mills to coal mines. He headed Rothschild Inc.'s bankruptcy division for nearly a quarter-century before launching WL Ross & Co. in 2000. The firm purchased bankrupt companies, shed pension plans and slashed jobs, wages and benefits, and then sold the companies for large profits.  

On Jan. 2, 2006, an explosion killed 12 miners at the Sago Mine in West Virginia, which was operated by a subsidiary of Ross' International Coal Group. Federal safety inspectors had cited the mine for 208 violations the previous year.

In August, Ross' firm agreed to pay a $2.3 million fine in a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over charges that it failed to disclose some fees it charged investors.

Trump picks Reince Priebus to be his Chief of Staff

2016-Nov-13By: Rob Dennis

President-elect Donald Trump has appointed Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to be White House Chief of Staff.

The cabinet-level post does not require Senate confirmation.

Priebus was elected RNC chairman in 2011. He previously served as chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin and RNC general counsel. He ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2004.

Priebus, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker grew up in the same area, and are longtime friends.

In the November 2010 elections in Wisconsin, Priebus, along with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), helped elect Walker to the governorship and Republicans to control of the state Assembly and Senate.

Senate confirms Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General

2015-Apr-24By: Barry Shatzman

The Senate has confirmed Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General. She replaces Eric Holder - who resigned in September of last year but remained in office until a successor was confirmed.

Lynch's confirmation had been put on hold by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell until Senate Democrats and Republicans could agree on terms of an unrelated bill to fight human trafficking (see the related Lobby99 story.

For more, read the New York Times story.

Senate confirms Ashton Carter as Defense Secretary

2015-Feb-12By: Barry Shatzman

Ashton Carter has been confirmed by the Senate to replace Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense.

For more, read the Guardian story.

Obama nominates Ashton Carter for Defense Secretary

2014-Dec-05By: Barry Shatzman

President Obama has nominated Ashton Carter to replace Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

For more about Ashton Carter, read the New York Times story.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel resigns

2014-Nov-24By: Barry Shatzman

Chuck Hagel has announced his resignation as Secretary of Defense. He will remain in the position until his successor is named and confirmed by the Senate.

For more, read the New York Times story.

Obama nominates Loretta Lynch for Attorney General

2014-Nov-08By: Barry Shatzman

President Obama has nominated New York Federal Prosecutor Loretta Lynch to succeed Eric Holder as Attorney General. Holder announced in September he would leave office as soon as a successor is confirmed by the Senate.

For more, read the New York Times story.

Attorney General Eric Holder announces resignation

2014-Sep-25By: Barry Shatzman

Eric Holder will resign as Attorney General. He will remain in office until a replacement is chosen by the present and approved by the Senate.

For more on Holder and his record as attorney general, read the New York Times story.

Supreme Court: Obama recess appointments are unconstitutional

2014-Jun-26By: Barry Shatzman

Appointments President Obama made to key agencies while the Senate was not in session were declared invalid by the Supreme Court.

The Constitution allows for such recess appointments. In the case of the four appointments the court nullified, however, a few Senate Republicans held pro forma sessions every few days. Each lasted just a few minutes, and were intended simply to prevent the Senate from officially going into recess.

Obama appointed Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and three members to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Before the appointments, only 2 of the 5 positions on the NLRB were filled - meaning the board was powerless to resolve labor disputes. Likewise, the CFPB could not take decisive actions without a leader.

The short durations between these sessions were what made the appointments unconstitutional, the Court unanimously ruled. All decisions issued by both agencies while they consisted of improperly appointed members became invalid.

There is no practical effect on the CFPB because Cordray later was confirmed by the Senate after Democrats voted to disallow silent filibusters on most presidential appointments (read our prior story, and Cordray reviewed all of his previous decisions once his appointment became valid.

The NLRB, however, will need to review hundreds of labor disputes that were ruled on by the improperly appointed members.

For a better understanding, read our discussion of this case, NLRB v. Noel Canning. Also, see the right sidebar for a link to our discussion of how presidential appointments work (and sometimes don't work).

For more, read the New York Times story.

You also read our story on the lower court decision that the Supreme Court upheld in this case.

Senate confirms Hagel as Secretary of Defense

2013-Feb-27

The Senate has confirmed Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, ending a nearly two-month process that included an unprecedented filibuster.

The vote to confirm Hagel, a twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran and former Republican senator, was 58-41.

Hagel's qualifications had little to do with why his nomination was held up for so long. At first, Republicans said they wanted the Obama administration to provide more information about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, before they would confirm Hagel. Hagel had no role in that attack, which killed four Americans.

After the administration delivered more information about Benghazi, Republicans led by freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas demanded that Hagel provide more documents about his personal finances since he left the Senate four years ago.

The stated reasons for the delay appeared disingenuous in light of statements made by Sen. John McCain. "I just want to make it clear. Sen. Hagel is an honorable man. He served his country. And no one on this committee, at any time, should impugn his character or his integrity," McCain said during a Senate confirmation hearing for Hagel.

However, echoing the stated dislike of Hagel by some Republicans, McCain also said in an interview, "It goes back to there's a lot of ill will towards Sen. Hagel because, when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly - at one point said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said the surge (sending thousands of extra troops to Iraq) was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which is nonsense, and was very anti his own party and people. People don't forget that."

Note: Lobby99 condemns this behavior. We expect elected representatives to use their positions to act in the best interests of their constituents - not to settle a political or personal score.

A motion to end the filibuster failed Feb. 14 by one vote. It was the first time a presidential appointee for secretary of defense had been filibustered and only the third time a cabinet nominee had been blocked. On Tuesday, however, 18 Republicans joined 53 Democrats in voting to end the filibuster and allow Hagel's nomination to proceed to a yes-or-no vote.

Meanwhile, John Brennan's confirmation as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also is being delayed by senators demanding more information about the Benghazi attacks and the use of drones to kill al-Qaida suspects overseas.

For more information about filibusters and Lobby99's approach to encouraging the Senate to focus on real issues rather than political gamesmanship, click the link in the right sidebar.

Republican senators filibuster Hagel nomination

2013-Feb-15

Republican senators have filibustered Chuck Hagel's nomination, the first time that's ever happened to a presidential appointee for secretary of defense and only the third time a cabinet nominee has been blocked.

A cloture motion to end the filibuster, requiring 60 votes to pass, failed by one vote Thursday. The final tally was 58-40, but only because Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote from yes to no so he can bring up the nomination again.

Without the filibuster, Hagel would be confirmed easily by a simple majority. And he still probably will be.

With Democrats holding a 55-seat majority in the Senate, at least five Republicans also will have to vote in favor of allowing the nomination to proceed. Four of them did so on Thursday.

At least three more - John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Richard Burr - said they just want more time and might vote to end the filibuster when the Senate returns from recess the week of Feb. 25. But that depends on what Hagel opponents are able to dig up in the meantime.

Hagel, a former Republican senator and Vietnam combat veteran, has come under fire for some of his comments about Iran and Israel, and his opposition to the Iraq war.

Still, the main reason Hagel's nomination was blocked has nothing to do with his qualifications.

Graham and McCain said they want the Obama administration to provide more information about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, before they will confirm Hagel.

Hagel had no role in that attack, which killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Meanwhile, the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the CIA also is being used as leverage by senators demanding more information about the Benghazi attacks and the use of drones to kill al-Qaida suspects overseas.

Court overturns Obama recess appointments

2013-Jan-25

The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that President Barack Obama exceeded his constitutional authority when he named three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last year.

The ruling came in a lawsuit that had been filed by a Pepsi-Cola bottler in Washington State. After the NLRB ruled against the company in a labor dispute, the company sued - claiming that three of the five board members had been appointed unconstitutionally.

Obama had appointed Sharon Block, Terence F. Flynn and Richard E. Griffin to the labor relations board. He similarly appointed Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Senate Republicans had blocked their nominations.

Facing a likely filibuster, Obama made the appointments in January 2012, when the Senate was on a 20-day break. Article 2, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution allows for appointments to be made without Senate confirmation when the Senate is not in session.

But Republican senators staged brief sessions every three days during the break. These pro forma sessions often last only a few minutes, but they are enough to keep the Senate nominally in session - thus preventing recess appointments. Both parties have used this tactic in the past.

The impasse had little to do with the nominees' qualifications. Republican senators vowed to filibuster any appointments to the consumer protection bureau until the administration made major changes to the agency's structure, including replacing the director with a board. All but one voted to kill Cordray's nomination in December 2011.

The five-member NLRB had lost its quorum of three members and could no longer issue rulings and regulations, effectively shutting it down. In 2011 it had accused Boeing of unfair labor practices, and Republicans and business groups said the board was union-friendly and anti-business.

The White House is expected to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. If this ruling stands, recess appointments would virtually be eliminated. The three-judge panel ruled that the Constitution only allows recess appointments during the break between Senate sessions, and only to vacancies created during those breaks. At the time the Constitution was written, these breaks could last six months.

The two permanent judges on the panel, Karen Henderson and Thomas Griffith, were appointed by presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

For more, read the New York Times story.

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