Senate Democrats push votes on Obama's nominees

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2014 4:10 PM

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With the clock ticking down on their Senate majority, Democrats pushed on Monday to win approval for some of President Barack Obama's stalled nominations for government posts.

Leading the list is Vivek Murthy, Obama's choice for the top U.S. public health job of surgeon general, who has drawn opposition over his support for stricter gun regulations, and Sarah Saldana, whose nomination to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office became bogged down after she said the president's executive action on immigration was legal.

The Senate will vote on Murthy, Saldana and three other nominees on Monday and Tuesday as part of Majority Leader Harry Reid's late push to get nominations through the Senate before it goes home for 2014 and Republicans take control of Congress in 2015.

Reid hopes to move about 20 more nominees later this week in a process he started over the weekend, when delaying tactics by conservative Republicans on the government spending bill kept the Senate in session unexpectedly and gave him an opening.

Last year, Democrats infuriated Republicans by changing Senate rules so government nominations can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of the 100-member Senate, rather than requiring a 60-vote supermajority.

Still, some nominations have languished. Obama nominated Murthy a year ago, but he drew opposition from some Republicans and the National Rifle Association for his gun-control views. Senator Ted Cruz, a conservative Republican, has called Murthy an "anti-gun activist."

Murthy, who has been working as an internal medicine physician in Boston, also advocated the Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature health initiative and anathema to most Republicans.

Supporters of Murthy noted more than 100 public health organizations, including the American Cancer Society, endorsed him, calling him a "well qualified, forward-thinking, innovative leader with a strong commitment to public health."

"Does that sound like a political hack when 100 organizations say that about this doctor?" said Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat.

The Senate will vote on Monday night on Murthy, Daniel Santos to serve on the Defense Nuclear Facilities board, and Frank Rose as assistant secretary of state.

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on Saldana and Antony Blinken, nominated for the No. 2 post in the State Department. Republican Senator John McCain has criticized Blinken for making reassuring comments about the pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)