Nominations Update: January 8, 2018 — UPDATED

Nominations Update: January 8, 2018 — UPDATED

As the 1st session of the 115th Congress ended, nominations for NASA Administrator, NOAA Administrator and other Trump Administration positions important to the conduct of the U.S. space program were in abeyance.  Here’s a quick status report on where they stand as of 4:00 pm ET on January 8, 2018. [UPDATE:  at 5:15 pm ET January 8, the White House announced it had sent a long list of renominations to the Senate, including Bridenstine for NASA and Myers for NOAA.]

Under Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6, any presidential nomination that has neither been approved nor rejected by the Senate by the end of a session of Congress must be returned to the President.  The Senate may waive that rule by unanimous consent, however, and allow a nomination to remain in “status quo.”

Each Congress lasts for two years, and each of the years is a “session.”  January 3 is the demarcation between sessions (unless otherwise set by law), with the first session ending at 11:59 am ET and the second session beginning at 12:00 pm ET.

Thus, any nomination that was not approved by 11:59 am ET on January 3, 2018 was returned to the President unless there was a unanimous consent agreement for it to remain in status quo.

Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. Photo Credit: NASA/Renee Bouchard

Six nominations of particular interest to readers were granted the exemption to remain in status quo:

  • Mike Griffin to be Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering (USD/R&E)
  • Neil Jacobs to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction (a top position at NOAA)
  • Four individuals to be Members of the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank
    • Spencer Bachus III
    • Judith Delzoppo Pryor
    • Kimberly Reed
    • Claudia Slacik

Except for Griffin, they have been approved by the relevant committee of jurisdiction (Senate Commerce for Jacobs; Senate Banking for the Ex-Im Bank nominees) and are on the Senate’s Executive Calendar awaiting action.

Griffin, who was NASA Administrator from 2005-2009, is still waiting for a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), the timing of which may depend on the health of SASC Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) who is being treated for brain cancer.  Griffin also had been nominated as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (USD/ATL).  That nomination was returned to the President, but is basically moot since that would have been a temporary appointment until the new USD/R&E position is officially created on February 1.  At this point, there would be no need to confirm him for that temporary position when February 1 is close at hand.

Three other nominations of interest were returned to the President pursuant to the rule:

  • Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) to be NASA Administrator
  • AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator
  • Former Rep. Scott Garrett (R-New Jersey) to be President of the Export-Import Bank
AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers. Credit: Barry Myers’ LinkedIn page.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK). Credit: Bridenstine website.

Bridenstine and Myers were both approved on party-line votes by the Senate Commerce Committee.  They are controversial nominations as we have extensively reported already, but the fact that they were returned to the President does not necessarily imply anything negative.  Often it is merely a paperwork exercise to renominate individuals who were not confirmed.  It does mean, however, that the Senate cannot take further action until the paperwork arrives. [UPDATE: As noted above, the President has now renominated both of these individuals.]

Garrett’s nomination was rejected by the Senate Banking Committee.  Theoretically, the President could renominate him, though opposition by all the committee Democrats and two Republicans appeared unwavering.  It is possible for a nomination to be taken up by the Senate even when it is not approved by the committee of jurisdiction, but it is rare.  It seems more likely that an alternative candidate will be proposed by the President.  One question is whether the Senate might proceed with votes on the other four Ex-Im Bank nominees to allow the Bank to return to regular business. A quorum of three of the five Board members is needed to approve loans over $10 million.  There is only one Board member now.

With last week’s swearing in of Sen. Doug Jones (D-Alabama), the party split in the Senate is 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and 2 Independents who often vote with Democrats, effectively a 51-49 split.

Approving controversial nominees like Bridenstine and Myers, assuming they are renominated, will be more complicated than last year when the split was 52-48. In cases where all Democrats are anticipated to vote no, Republicans now can afford to lose only one vote. That would yield a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by Vice President Mike Pence in his role as President of the Senate.

Two Republican Senators — McCain and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) — are dealing with health issues and their attendance in the Senate is uncertain.  Rumors are that between one and three Republicans have reservations about the Bridenstine nomination, so who exactly is in the Senate chamber when the vote is taken could determine the outcome.  It is unlikely that a nomination would be brought to the floor for a vote if Senate leadership was not certain it would pass.

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