WASHINGTON — Could the White House be hinting at when President Barack Obama might nominate a new attorney general?
The White House won’t give away Obama’s timeline. But press secretary Josh Earnest pointed out Friday that there is precedent for the Senate confirming nominees in a lame-duck session, the weeks in Congress between the midterm elections and the new lawmakers are sworn in and seated.
Some Republicans are urging Obama to delay a nomination until after a new Senate is sworn in next year. Democrats control the chamber now, but the majority is up for grabs in November.
“Rather than rush a nominee through the Senate in a lame-duck session, I hope the president will now take his time to nominate a qualified individual who can start fresh relationships with Congress so that we can solve the problems facing our country,” said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on the nominee.
In response to those GOP calls, Earnest raised the example of President George W. Bush’s nomination of Robert Gates as defense secretary the day after the 2006 midterm election in which Republicans lost their Senate majority.
“In less than a month, December 6, Secretary Gates was confirmed to his post, with strong bipartisan support,” Earnest recalled. “So there is a precedent for presidents making important Cabinet nominations and counting on Congress to confirm them promptly, even in the context of a lame-duck session, if necessary.”
Earnest also pointed out that Attorney General Eric Holder’s predecessor, Michael Mukasey, was confirmed by a Senate led by the opposition party seven weeks later. “So there is a pretty clear precedent for attorneys general and for other prominent Cabinet officials to go through the process of being nominated and confirmed quickly and with bipartisan support,” Earnest said.
Obama can’t officially nominate a new attorney general until the Senate returns to session on Nov. 12. That leaves only seven calendar weeks until a new Senate in sworn in, including the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Obama, however, could announce his intent to nominate a new attorney general any time.