The White House will renominate Kristine Svinicki to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a move that puts him on the side of Senate Republicans and against Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who vehemently opposes her.
Republicans requested Ms. Svinicki, whose first term on the commission ends in June, be renominated as one of two GOP commissioners — but the White House had held onto the nomination for more than a year, leading Senate Republicans this week to speculate on “mysterious” reasons for the delay.
On Wednesday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said it appeared the White House was blocking her because she blew the whistle last year on abusive treatment by the NRC’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko. Thursday morning a White House official told The Washington Times she would be nominated.
Thursday morning a White House official told The Washington Times she would be nominated, confirming a report by Reuters news service.
The move puts Mr. Reid in a tough spot.
On Wednesday his spokesman said Ms. Svinicki had lied about her past involvement in the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada — which Mr. Reid has long opposed — and said she had demonstrated a bad record on nuclear safety. But the White House’s decision signals they came to a different conclusion.
Now Mr. Reid will have to try to rally fellow Democrats to defeat her nomination in the Senate — though several Democrats have already signaled their support for her.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said when Ms. Svenicki was nominated for her first term by then-President George W. Bush, she was confirmed without any objections in the Senate.
“I guess the question would be to Senator Reid, ‘What has changed?’ ” Ms. Murkowski said Thursday. “The only thing that has changed is that she has had the courage to step forward and has blown the whistle on her chairman, and the chairman happens to be a good friend to Senator Reid.”
Asked about the nomination, Mr. Reid said it was Mr. Obama’s right to send up whatever nominees he chose, but pointed to opposition to Ms. Svinicki from several members of Nevada’s congressional delegation as well as from Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
“That’s why we have a Congress, and there will be hearings held,” Mr. Reid said.
The NRC oversees civilian nuclear power plants. Its role has come under sharper focus after the Fukushima plant in Japan suffered a partial meltdown last year.
It is run by a five-member commission, with the chairman and two members traditionally selected by the president and the other two members selected by the Senate minority leader — in this case Mr. McConnell.
Ms. Svenicki and three other commissioners — one Republican and two Democrats — complained last year about Mr. Jaczko’s behavior as chairman, including charging that he tried to intimidate commission members and staffers. They said his behavior toward female staffers was particularly abusive.
The issue exploded into the public, and the White House had to step in and mediate. Mr. Jaczko promised to try to do a better job of communicating with the other commissioners.
Underlying the Svinicki nomination fight is also an ideological divide. The four commissioners are seen to be more willing to work with the nuclear energy industry, while Mr. Jaczko has pushed for new restrictions.