Confirmation battles await Congress

Seal_of_the_United_States_Congress.svgWhen the new Congress is sworn in in January, a number of confirmation battles will loom large, and Tennessee’s two Senators will be among the key Senators that Obama will need in order to secure many key appointments.

Since shortly before the midterm elections, two key members of President Obama’s Cabinet have resigned. The first was Attorney General Eric Holder. In the weeks that followed, Obama announced his replacement nominee for the job, choosing Loretta Lynch. Lynch was appointed by President Bill Clinton as U.S Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and was later re-appointed to the same position under Obama.

Not much is known about Lynch, making her confirmation hearings that much more important. She was responsible for prosecuting a police officer in a brutality case in the late 90’s, and reached multi-billion dollar settlements from HSBC and Citigroup, both of whom sold mortgage backed securities that led to the 2008 economic collapse. If confirmed, Lynch will become the first female African-American Attorney General in US history.

The resignation that took many by surprise was that of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the lone Republican in Obama’s Cabinet, and one of Obama’s greatest confidantes as a Senator. The resignation of Hagel was different than that of Holder’s in the fact it wasn’t a voluntary resignation. Leaked quotes from Senior White House officials stated Hagel “Simply wasn’t up to the job”. Sen. John McCain offered a different narrative, stating tensions with the Department of Defense and the White House were to blame.

Quickly after Hagel’s departure was announced, President Obama named Ash Carter as the nominee. Carter first served at the Pentagon in the Clinton administration, and has specialized as a weapons analyst and undersecretary of Defense in the Obama administration.

The third confirmation battle will be over Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General, Vivek Murphy. Unlike the other two nominees, this confirmation vote may take place before the new Congress is sworn in. Murphy has drawn heavy criticism of from Republicans and conservatives who take issue with Murphy’s stance on guns. Murphy has referred to gun access as a “public health issue”. It is this vote that is likely to be the closest.

Both Sen. Corker and Sen. Alexander have previously been seen as “swing votes” in confirmation battles. Their votes may well be the deciding factors in one or more of these confirmations. Since the 2014 elections, red state Democrats are being careful not to cast votes that will haunt them upon re-election. This leaves a small contingent of Republicans as backup in case the Democratic caucus does not vote uniformly.

All indications are that Ash Carter will easily be confirmed as President Obama’s fourth Defense Secretary, having steered clear of any major political issues. Lynch is also likely to be confirmed as Attorney General, the real question is the number of votes she will get overall in the process. Lynch was confirmed easily confirmed when appointed as US Attorney in 2010, but her relative obscurity and record on civil rights and financial prosecution may make her a target for Republicans.

Corker and Alexander have not committed to backing  any of the nominees, but have been in a small group of Republicans that vote to confirm nominees during recent battles-particularly Supreme Court appointments.

With these new confirmation fights and more judicial vacancies to fill in the next two years, Corker and Alexander will ascend to the title of power broker in Washington, where their votes may be the reason a nominee succeeds or fails.

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