- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

President Bush and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott yesterday agreed to move forward on nominees sought by Democrats in hopes of solving a bigger problem the blocking of all White House nominations by Republican Sen. John McCain.

Mr. Lott told Mr. Bush at the White House that he is releasing his "hold" on the nomination of Jonathan Adelstein, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, for a seat on the Federal Communications Commission.

Mr. Daschle, in turn, agreed tentatively to begin holding votes later this week on several Bush nominations, including some of the 16 judicial candidates awaiting confirmation.

"The White House is going to move the Democratic nominees for certain boards and commissions, and then it'll be up to Tom to act in good faith to begin to move some of these judges," Mr. Lott said.

Republicans are resigned to forcing a showdown on the floor with their often-independent colleague from Arizona, Mr. McCain, who has vowed to block all nominations until Mr. Bush installs as quickly as possible a Democrat, Ellen Weintraub, on the Federal Elections Commission.

Mr. McCain said Mrs. Weintraub, whose law firm represents Democratic political action committees, will implement strictly the campaign finance law that he worked for seven years to enact. He said yesterday's deal between Republicans and Mr. Daschle does not change his plans to hold up nominations, despite pressure from the White House.

"They have asked that we release the holds; we haven't done so," Mr. McCain said. "I'll just block them. I intend to exercise my rights as a senator."

Republicans, who have been blaming Democrats for more than a year for not approving enough Bush judicial nominees, privately are furious with Mr. McCain for giving Democrats political cover. Mr. Lott made light of the situation and told reporters he has come to expect such action from Mr. McCain.

"I'm not mad at him about it," Mr. Lott said. "But you can't have one senator holding up 60 nominations, including 16 judges, because he's got his lip stuck out over one commission appointee. You can't do that. We all understand John doesn't march to anybody's drumbeat. This is John. He's my problem; he's Tom's problem. He's our problem."

Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who has consistently resisted Republican calls to approve judges at a faster pace, said he doesn't see much of a problem.

"It's certainly Senator McCain's right to take the position he has, and we'll just have to work with it," Mr. Daschle said.

An administration official conceded: "We still have our biggest problem."

Mr. McCain's stance would prevent the Senate from approving several nominees at a time, instead forcing the chamber to take up each nomination individually. Mr. McCain said he will then object to each one, in which case his opponents could file a procedural motion to force a vote after three days. That prospect could mean votes over the weekend or on Mondays and Fridays, when senators in this election year are loath to remain in Washington.

"You can do it on Fridays," Mr. Lott said. "You can do it on Saturdays."

Mr. McCain said he is ready to stay in town.

"I have no problem with being here on Saturday," the Arizonan said. "It's 115 in Phoenix."

Most lawmakers doubted such a scenario will take place. But Mr. Lott said his move was designed to bring about some action, however slow, on a deal that he and Mr. Daschle had nearly reached two weeks ago, before Mr. McCain issued his threat in writing.

"The problem is that Senator McCain has still indicated he would take full advantage of his rights as a senator and would have a lot to say," Mr. Lott said. "But my feeling on that is, the majority leader has to call up the nominations and let [Mr. McCain] say whatever he's got to say."

Complicating matters is that Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and chief foe of the campaign finance law, has said he will block Mrs. Weintraub's nomination.

Mr. McCain said he objects to Mr. Bush's recess appointment to the FEC of former Republican National Committee counsel Michael Toner without giving the same kind of appointment to Mrs. Weintraub.

"I believe the administration will recognize that this is an issue of fairness," Mr. McCain said. "I worked for seven years for campaign finance reform. I am not about to sit idly by and watch a person whose term has expired 16 months ago emasculate the law that we passed."

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