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Confirmation logjam breaks?

Confirmation logjam breaks?

A blanket hold placed late last week by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) on all State Department nominees appears to have been lifted on Saturday, administration sources tell The Cable. Kyl’s only remaining hold, The Cable was told, is on Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), President Obama’s nominee to be under secretary of state for arms control and international security.

Kyl’s office confirmed his remaining hold on Tauscher’s nomination. "He honestly has made no guise of his hold on her nomination," spokesman Ryan Patmintra told The Cable Monday. "He expressed privately to the administration his concerns. He has chosen not to discuss them publicly."

A congressional source told The Cable last week that Kyl objects to the administration pursuing strategic arms reductions talks with Moscow before its Nuclear Posture Review is complete. The U.S.-Russia START treaty is set to expire in December, so the administration feels it has little choice but to proceed with the treaty negotiations.

Currently there are about 15 people in the foreign-policy arena who are waiting for their nominations to proceed to a vote. With Congress set to break for July 4 recess Thursday night, the administration is pushing for as many to come up for a vote this week.

The White House earlier Monday expressed particular concern that Kurt Campbell, its top State Department Asia hand, was not yet confirmed, given North Korea’s latest threats to conduct further nuclear and missile tests.

"At a time of rising tensions with North Korea, we think it is important that the Senate have an opportunity to vote to put in place our chief diplomat for Asia," an administration official told The Cable.

Republican Senators — as well as some Democrats — have indicated that placing holds on nominees is one of the only ways they have found to get the administration, overwhelmed with multiple challenges, to respond to various gripes and concerns.

Currently Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), for instance, has a hold on the nomination of Jeffrey Feltman to be assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Unlike other nominees, Feltman, currently serving as the acting NEA assistant secretary, is able to conduct much of his work while he awaits formal confirmation. But he is unable to hire staff. Sources tell The Cable Levin met with a State Department official last week to work out an arrangement to lift the Feltman hold. Levin wants the State Department to make an Italian-born constituent eligible for Libyan relief funds for victims of allegedly Libyan-backed terrorism acts, including a bombing at Rome’s airport. Feltman, who has recused himself from the case, declined to comment.

Administration sources said it wasn’t clear if Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) had placed a hold on Campbell, and Brownback’s office did not immediately respond to a query. Brownback, sources say, wants North Korea put back on the terrorism list.

Under the basic process for nominations that reach the Senate floor, the majority leader sends a notice to all offices asking if there are any objections to confirming the nominations under the executive calendar for a given date. On Friday morning, a congressional source explained, "this hotline request was issued, and the entire cluster of State Department nominations reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the past Tuesday was on the executive calendar, in addition to [State Department legal advisor nominee Harold] Koh and Feltman as the two holdovers.  Later that morning, a bunch of people were confirmed …. But Tauscher, Campbell, Koh, and Feltman remain on the executive calendar today, presumably because one or more senators indicated an objection to moving their nominations by unanimous consent."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff sources said they couldn’t comment on anonymous holds. They sought last week to downplay any blanket hold, noting that the Senate had last week confirmed four State Department nominees, including Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, Assistant Secretary for Populations, Refugees, and Migration Eric Schwartz, Global HIV/AIDS coordinator Eric Goosby, and Amb. and U.S. Represenative for Threat Reductions Programs Bonnie Jenkins.

Republicans may also be feeling emboldened by poll numbers that show mounting concern about proposed administration spending, including on healthcare, sources close to the administration said, as well as polls that show gaps between Obama’s personal popularity and that of some specific policies.

Meantime, late Monday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a cloture motion to force a vote on the nomination of Koh to be the State Department legal advisor. Congressional sources said that the vote will not occur until Tuesday at the earliest.