Gridlock in the Senate over agency appointments has become a feature of Washington politics. The problem was compounded this year when the D.C. Circuit limited the president’s authority to make recess appointments in Noel Canning v. NLRB, No. 12-1115 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 25, 2013).
Yet the last few days have offered up their share of surprises for weary watchers of the appointment process. The Senate considered three significant Obama appointees for major positions, with one officially confirmed and the other two facing light opposition as they move through the process.
On Wednesday, April 10, the Senate voted 87 to 11 to confirm former REI CEO Sally Jewell as Secretary of the Interior. Ms. Jewell has a long history of private sector experience, first as an engineer for Mobil Oil and then in the banking industry before she joined REI in the late 1990s. Jewell replaces former Secretary Ken Salazar.
Back in March, President Obama nominated Gina McCarthy, currently an assistant administrator in the Office of Air and Radiation, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. If confirmed, Ms. McCarthy will take a leading role in the President’s efforts to combat climate change, which should make her a controversial choice. In addition, back in February, a program that she oversees in her current role came under criticism. Despite these obstacles, however, she received a (relatively) warm reception on Capitol Hill recently, with opponents focusing their criticisms more on the agency itself rather than Ms. McCarthy’s qualifications. Part of this may be due to the fact that she has worked closely with Republican governors in Massachusetts in the past and has a reputation for taking business considerations into account.
Perhaps most significantly of all, President Obama’s pick for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Sri Srinvasan, had an easy hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 10. So easy, in fact, that Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, voiced tentative support for Mr. Srinivasan’s confirmation. An Obama appointee on the D.C. Circuit, of course, would have a significant impact on judicial review of agency actions and could have a major role in implementing the President’s second term agenda.
While these developments are unlikely harbingers of forthcoming bipartisan cooperation, it is heartening to see signs of movement within the increasingly dysfunctional appointments process. Time alone will tell, however, whether this era of good feelings persist.
Kevin J. Schmitt is a third-year law student at UC Hastings College of the Law. He is currently a Senior Articles Editor for the Hastings Law Journal.
This post was originally published on the legacy ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Notice and Comment blog, which merged with the Yale Journal on Regulation Notice and Comment blog in 2015.