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Swift confirmation likely for most nominees

- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009

Democrats are rushing to get a raft of President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet and other nominees approved with a whirlwind of Senate confirmation hearings beginning Thursday, the first featuring Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Daschle.

And while the Senate is expected to confirm most, if not all, of the nominees at the conclusion of several weeks of hearings, that doesn't mean a few won't face noisy resistance from Republicans -- and even an occasional Democrat.

"Absent some scandal, absent something bad, I wouldn't be surprised if all of them get confirmed," said James Pinkerton of the New America Foundation, who worked in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

But some push back is expected from Democrats eager to step away from the Bush administration's eight-year shadow over Capitol Hill and exert their independence from the executive branch -- even as Democrat Mr. Obama is set to take up residency in the White House Jan. 20.

"They're going to try to reassert themselves a little bit on their advice-and-consent function as best they can," Mr. Pinkerton said.

Mr. Obama's pick of Eric H. Holder Jr. for attorney general is expected to receive the toughest scrutiny among all of the president-elect's nominees. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday blasted Mr. Holder's position on several contentious issues while serving as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, and accused him of being too beholden to the interests of his superiors.

"There is an underlying issue about Mr. Holder not following the recommendations of career attorneys" during his tenure in the Justice Department, said the moderate Republican. "It is to be expected that politically appointed federal officers will not always follow the advice of career staff, but this pattern is troubling."

The president-elect is also faced with the embarrassing scenario of having to pick a new nominee for commerce secretary after his first choice, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, withdrew from consideration owing to a federal investigation of a company that donated to his political action committees.

But the confirmation process for the most part should proceed without many fireworks.

Mr. Daschle is expected to receive a generally warm reception during his morning hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The South Dakota Democrat, who was an early supporter of Mr. Obama's presidential bid, is a strong proponent of the president-elect's health care reform plan that includes some form of universal health care coverage -- a position most Republicans oppose.

But Mr. Daschle is generally well-liked and respected among his former Senate peers on both sides of the political aisle. And with no orchestrated Republican campaign against his nomination, he is expected to secure confirmation without much trouble.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton also is on her way to being confirmed as secretary of state. The New York Democrat and former first lady, who goes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, has received praise from Democrats and Republicans.

"I think she's a known commodity. She's been tested in a lot of ways," said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican and Foreign Relations Committee member. "She expresses herself well, and I don't think she'll make any rookie mistakes."