With a key test vote in the Senate on Monday, Democrats are playing the national security card in their push to get the No. 2 man at the Justice Department confirmed.
Democrats argue that acting Deputy Attorney General James Cole, whom President Obama wants named to the post permanently, needs full congressional backing if the treasure trove of intelligence from Osama bin Laden's killing can be fully put to use.
"There's a heightened need for him now, given all the new work that's going to come forward," Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week.
Mr. Schumer specifically stressed the need for a permanent deputy attorney general to help sign off on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders - a key anti-terrorism tool that allows U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct physical and electronic surveillance of terrorist suspects.
Only three Justice officials - the attorney general, the deputy attorney general and the head of the National Security Division - can sign FISA orders.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who testified at the Wednesday hearing, also appealed to the Senate to quickly confirm Mr. Cole, who oversees the department's day-to-day operations.
"We need to have our team in place, and we need to have some degree of permanence," Mr. Holder said.
Mr. Obama sidestepped the Senate to directly appoint Mr. Cole - whose nomination had been stalled for months - when the Senate was on recess in late December.
Because Mr. Cole is a so-called "recess appointment," his term will expire at the end of the year unless confirmed by the full Senate.
Some Republicans have objected to Mr. Cole's nomination over concerns about his approach to terrorism cases and for his role as an independent monitor for American International Group Inc. that began in the years prior to AIG's financial troubles, which surfaced in 2008.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he has particular concerns about suggestions from Mr. Cole that terrorist suspects should be tried in civilian criminal courts, not military tribunals.
"Military tribunals have many advantages to civilian criminal courts and are better equipped to deal with dangerous terrorists and classified evidence while preserving due process," Mr. Grassley said in March. "I'm troubled that Mr. Cole does not appear to share this belief."
Mr. Cole was a Justice Department official for 13 years before entering private law practice in 1992. During his first stint with the department, he served as deputy chief of the public integrity section, which investigates and prosecutes corruption cases of elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
Mr. Cole was named a partner at the law firm Bryan Cave LLP in 1995, specializing in white-collar defense. He served as special counsel for the House ethics committee in its 1997 investigation of Speaker Newt Gingrich.
It's uncertain how Monday's procedural vote in the Senate will go. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, citing GOP opposition to allow Mr. Cole an up-or-down vote, last week evoked a parliamentary tactic aimed to end the stalemate. The cloture motion limits debate but also requires the OK of at least 60 senators - instead of the simple majority of 51 - in the 100-seat chamber before the nomination could proceed toward a final vote.
Democrats control 53 seats in the Senate.
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