Inquirer Editorial: 'Nuclear' brinkmanship stalls qualified nominees

Richard Cordray , director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is one of the White House appointees awaiting confirmaion. ANDREW HARRER / Bloomberg
Richard Cordray , director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is one of the White House appointees awaiting confirmaion. ANDREW HARRER / Bloomberg
Posted: July 11, 2013

The Senate can show a modicum of civility this summer by confirming qualified nominees to a trio of important federal agencies.

Senators should stop sitting on President Obama's March nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency. McCarthy joined the EPA in 2009 after many years as a state regulator.

Also in limbo is the leadership of the Department of Labor. In March, Obama nominated Thomas Perez, whose background as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division makes him well qualified to head the department.

Finally, the appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created to help prevent another financial meltdown, has languished since last year. Cordray's long overdue confirmation shouldn't serve as a playbook for tormenting Perez and McCarthy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) promised to push the nominations this month. They will be a test for New Jersey's Jeff Chiesa, whom Gov. Christie appointed to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Chiesa has a chance to side with consumers, workers, and anyone who breathes by voting to install qualified leaders at these agencies.

Some fear McCarthy's nomination could be held up by dirty-energy interests hoping to thwart Obama's renewed effort to address climate change. But given that McCarthy is already the EPA's clean-air enforcement chief, there would be no point in blocking her nomination on those grounds.

The nominations are being held up partly because of petty "holds" placed by individual senators. Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), who wants the EPA to speed up a study on a local levee project, has put a hold on McCarthy. Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) has a hold on Perez to protest the Justice Department's aggressive enforcement of voting rights. Republicans have no particular objection to Cordray, but their finance-industry backers oppose his agency.

In response to Democrats' talk of changing the Senate's rules to move the appointments with a simple majority - a controversial maneuver known as the "nuclear option" - Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) has threatened a literally nuclear option. He said Republicans would eventually regain a Senate majority and vote to finish the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear waste dump that Reid has long opposed.

Such out-of-control pettiness should not be holding up qualified presidential appointments. The Senate should rise above this partisan bickering and move the nominations.

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