Sources say senator is blocking base closure nominations

Sen. Trent Lott, a staunch opponent of BRAC, may prevent confirmation of former VA Secretary Anthony Principi and eight other panel nominees.

In a last-ditch effort to stymie the Pentagon's 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission process, congressional sources say Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., has placed a hold on the president's nomination of former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi to head the panel.

Lott's spokesman could not be reached for comment, but congressional aides said that in addition to holding up Principi's nomination, Lott also intends to place holds on each of the remaining eight BRAC Commission nominees, who have yet to appear before the Armed Services Committee for their confirmation hearings.

According to Senate aides, the committee moved Principi's nomination to the Senate floor March 17 following his March 15 confirmation hearing.

Bush this month tapped Principi to lead the nine-member commission that will evaluate the Pentagon's base closure recommendations this summer. Although the Armed Services Committee was quick to act on Principi's nomination, time is running short for the committee to approve the remaining nominees.

More than two weeks have passed since the White House released its list of candidates to serve on the commission, though sources close to Capitol Hill say the Senate is waiting to act on the remaining nominees until the White House completes its list. Specifically, nominee Claude Kicklighter of Georgia was reportedly a last-minute addition to the list after questions arose over Senate Majority Leader Frist's pick, retired Army Gen. John Coburn of Virginia. Sources say Coburn's nomination might pose a conflict of interest, and it is unclear whether Kicklighter will remain on the list or be replaced.

Congressional sources say Lott's potential to hold up the commission nominees poses a serious risk to the BRAC process. A staunch opponent of BRAC, Lott joined other lawmakers last year in a failed bid to delay the 2005 base closure round by two years with an amendment to the fiscal 2005 defense authorization bill. This year, if he does hold up the remaining nominations, Lott could rob the commission of the little time it will have to review the Pentagon's base closure recommendations. Once the Pentagon's list is submitted to commission members May 16, they will have until Sept. 8 to review the list and propose changes.