Senate majority leader slows action on GSA nominee

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has missed few chances to complain about blocked executive nominations, regularly ripping Republicans for holds that he said are designed to limit floor time for Democratic legislation.

On Thursday, for example, Reid faulted Republican "stalling tactics" for forcing a cloture vote before the confirmation of Cass Sunstein to head OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In a June floor speech, he blasted Republicans for placing holds on more than 20 nominations.

But multiple Democratic and Republican staffers say Reid himself slowed action on one of the highest-ranking nominees awaiting confirmation, Martha Johnson. She is President Obama's pick to head the General Services Administration.

Johnson, a former GSA chief of staff, cannot start her job until she is confirmed, a GSA spokeswoman said.

Reid is keen to promote travel to Nevada, where he faces a tough re-election fight next year. Aides said he delayed confirmation of Johnson while seeking assurances that the agency, which oversees federal travel policy, did not discourage federal employees from traveling to Las Vegas for business conferences.

Johnson's nomination cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in June, and drew no GOP objections when it was circulated to all Senate offices. But a Democrat apparently held up the nomination and prevented a floor vote, Senate staffers from both parties said.

"We later learned that Reid has expressed some concerns about travel," said a senior Republican aide. "He had some concerns about that and was using the Martha Johnson nomination as leverage with the White House and GSA."

The aide said Reid did not place a technical hold, which would not be needed since the majority leader controls the floor schedule.

"It is not accurate to say that Sen. Reid had a hold on the nomination. ... It is typical practice that a nomination is reviewed once it is received," a Democratic leadership aide familiar with the matter said. "There were a couple of issues that needed clarification on the nomination."

Reid has touted his concern about agencies limiting travel to Las Vegas. In an exchange of letters in July, he asked White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to ensure federal agencies do not prohibit travel to Las Vegas and other conference destinations that "are considered too leisure oriented." On July 27 he sent a letter asking federal agencies not to limit travel to any specific U.S. cities.

After Reid's concerns were resolved, Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., placed his own hold on the nomination last month because of concerns about delays in a federal construction project in Kansas City. Bond has met with Johnson, but is continuing the hold while waiting for further information from the nominee, a spokesman said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec