The Senate approved one of President Obama’s fundraisers Monday to fill a vacancy on the United Nations body that investigates aviation incidents like the Malaysia Airlines crash that is roiling eastern Ukraine. But first, his nomination ruffled a political saga on U.S. soil.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid complained from the chamber floor that nominee Michael A. Lawson, a Los Angeles-area lawyer, had waited for months to be confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization amid questions about his campaign bundling and a standoff with Senate Republicans over how presidential nominees are approved.
“It’s really untoward that this is happening,” the Nevada Democrat said Monday in chiding his GOP colleagues. “They’re holding up these nominations out of spite, and it’s too bad. And this is a perfect example.”
Hours later Mr. Lawson, who had served on an international airport board in Los Angeles, was quickly confirmed by a voice vote. He will be the American representative on the civil body that recently dispatched a team to Ukraine to investigate how and why a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot out of the sky, killing all 298 people on board.
A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, countered Monday that “after the plane was shot down, it was noticed that the slot was not a priority. We pointed it out and a vote was set up.”
Mr. Lawson was nominated by the White House in September and made it through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May. Over the last several days, Mr. Reid had complained that the U.S. is being held back on the world stage by failing to fill a number of ambassador slots.
Democrats last year used a controversial parliamentary move known as the “nuclear option” to clear many of the president’s nominees by a simple majority vote instead of the 60-vote threshold that had been used for years.
Republicans decried the move as black eye for the Senate as an institution, while Mr. Reid has maintained it was necessary to overcome rampant GOP opposition. It is still a sore spot for the divided chamber, mostly recently exemplified by Mr. Lawson’s confirmation to ICAO.
The international aviation body was formed in 1944 and assists countries in established standards and operating procedures to ensure safety in the world’s airspace.
Russian aviation officials reluctant to deal with the Ukrainian government in Kiev said Monday they would share any information about the incident to the ICAO-led group of investigators, according to state news agency ITAR-TASS.