Senate OKs several Obama nominees

January 23, 2009 4:20:31 AM PST
It's nine down, six to go to fill President Barack Obama's Cabinet. Yet, for all of the progress, his picks for attorney general and deputy defense secretary remain mired in questions over interrogation methods and ethics. On Day Two of the new administration, the Senate unclogged a series of nominations and scheduled a vote for Monday to confirm Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary.

Without objection, senators on Thursday confirmed former Illinois Rep. Ray Lahood, a Republican, and New York City housing commissioner Shaun Donovan to be secretaries of transportation and housing, respectively.

Also confirmed were Lisa Perez Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Nancy Helen Sutley as a member of the Council of Environmental Quality, Mary Schapiro as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations.

Earlier in the day, a Senate panel cleared the way for Geithner's confirmation despite concern that he was years late in paying some federal income taxes.

Other appointments lingered in a political purgatory as Senate Republicans sought to remind majority Democrats that Obama can't count on getting his way without the GOP's consent.

Eric Holder's nomination to head the Justice Department remained a step behind Geithner's. Judiciary Committee Republicans insisted that the hearing be delayed until Tuesday to await Holder's views on interrogation methods used on detainees.

Meanwhile, Obama's nomination for the No. 2 official at the Pentagon slowed as lawmakers considered whether William J. Lynn III might require an exemption from the administration's own lobbying rules. Lynn, who has broad support in Congress, had been considered a shoo-in for deputy defense secretary.

Obama was expected to determine whether Lynn needs a waiver exempting him from a rule that people cannot work for the government agencies they have lobbied in the past two years. Lynn has been a lobbyist for Raytheon Co., a major military contractor.

Republicans said the delays are all about getting information, not flexing muscle.

"You've certainly not seen any effort on the part of Republicans to deliberately slow anything down," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said earlier this week. "We understand the importance of both the secretary of treasury and attorney general taking office as soon as possible, but also (it's) important to get key questions answered."

Among those still to be confirmed is Hilda Solis, Obama's pick for labor secretary.

Geithner is expected to be confirmed by the Senate as treasury secretary. He cleared the Finance Committee on an 18-5 vote. Obama and lawmakers of both parties are hoping for quick approval so that the point man for the administration's economic rescue effort can begin work solving the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

Geithner appeared before the panel to apologize for what he called "careless mistakes" in failing to pay $34,000 in taxes earlier in the decade when he worked at the International Monetary Fund.

Geithner paid the back taxes plus interest for the years 2003 and 2004 after being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. But he did not pay taxes he owed for 2001 and 2002, even though he had made the same mistakes for those years, until shortly before he was nominated by Obama in November to be treasury secretary.

The White House was taking the long view of the holdups.

Thursday, after all, was only Day Two of the new administration.

"The president's most previous job experience before coming here was as a member of the Senate, and he understands the importance of consulting with and keeping apprised the Congress," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters in his first daily briefing.