Three openly gay nominees are among the 74 presidential appointees whose confirmations are being held up by the U.S. Senate, although observers don’t suspect anti-gay bias as a factor preventing a vote.
The lack of a Senate vote on these nominees is blocking them from assuming the jobs to which President Obama nominated them. The three nominees are:
• Michael Camunez, nominated to become assistant secretary of commerce for market access and compliance;
• Richard Sorian, nominated to become assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health & Human Services;
• and Beatrice Hanson, nominated to become director of the Justice Department’s Office of Victims of Crime.
The White House announced the nomination of Camunez in March. Obama announced the nominations of the other two nominees late last year.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, expressed disappointment that the Senate has been unable to confirm the nominees as well as the 71 other appointments that are pending.
“It’s unfortunate that at a time when our nation is facing enormous challenges, some senators have decided to delay critical nominations — often for political purposes,” he said. “With 74 nominees still pending before the Senate, the president hopes that the Senate will move forward and consider all of these well-qualified candidates.”
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund has pushed for the appointment of LGBT people through the federal government as the coalition leader in the Presidential Appointments Project.
Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, said he had no knowledge of anti-gay bias holding up the confirmation process.
“My understanding is there are tons of nominees that are still being held,” Dison said. “I think that if the president is nominating a number of LGBT people, they’re just as likely to get caught up in the politics as straight nominees.”
Of the three pending LGBT nominees, the Senate has most recently taken steps to put Camunez on track to receive his appointment. The Senate Finance Committee last week favorably reported his nomination to the floor, just before lawmakers broke for the August recess.
Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said the full Senate had yet to schedule a confirmation vote for Camunez.
“Last Thursday is a millisecond in the Senate, so it’s not like he’s been hanging out there for six months,” Manley said. “We rarely, if ever, confirm anyone on the day they [are] reported out.”
On June 30, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously reported out the nomination of Sorian, but his nomination hasn’t yet come before the full Senate.
Manley cited general Republican opposition to presidential nominees as the reason why the Senate has not confirmed Sorian.
“I have no idea what the deal is, but I think if you Google up the words ‘Donald Berwick’ and ‘Republicans,’ you will find Republicans vowing jihad in the light of the recess appointment for Burwick, so that’s all I know about that,” Manley said.
Manley was referring to Obama’s recess appointment in July of Donald Berwick as head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which invoked the ire of Republicans ranging from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
The other appointee, Hanson, is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Erica Chabot, spokesperson for the Judiciary Committee, said consideration of the nomination of Elena Kagan to become associate justice for the U.S. Supreme Court prevented the panel from holding other confirmation hearings.
“That often times slows up the scheduling of the nominations hearings, when we have a Supreme Court nominee,” Chabot said.
Time for a hearing or committee vote of Hanson’s nomination has not been scheduled, Chabot said. She denied that Hanson’s sexual orientation played any role in what was preventing the Judiciary Committee from taking up her nomination.
“It’s certainly not from Sen. Leahy’s perspective,” Chabot said. “I don’t think that anybody has raised that — certainly not with me.”
Another nominee, Chai Feldblum, a lesbian with a long history of LGBT activism, never received Senate confirmation. Still, she was able to assume her position as a commissioner for the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission through a recess appointment March 27.
But because Feldblum never received confirmation from the Senate, her tenure is shorter than it would have been if she had received consent from the chamber. She will only retain her EEOC position until the end of this year, while if she had received confirmation she would have been able to stay on until 2013.
An unknown senator placed a secret hold on Feldblum’s appointment, as well as other EEOC nominations, preventing the Senate from taking action. It’s still possible for the Senate to vote on her nomination to enable her to take her position for full tenure.
Dison said the extent to which Feldblum’s sexual orientation played a role in the mystery senator’s hold is unknown, but he noted it would be “appalling” if any senator thought being a lesbian would disqualify them from any job.
“I know that she has been quite active in LGBT issues,” Dison said. “If that’s the problem for those who don’t want her confirmed, then it’s not far from saying that her sexual orientation is the issue. She fought for those issues on principle, but she also fought for them because she’s part of that community.”
Sean Theriault, a gay government professor at the University of Texas, Austin, said the hold up of the nominations reflects “how truly paralyzed the Senate is” as opposed to any anti-gay bias.
“The system of holds, filibusters, electioneering, legislative games, and party polarization has brought the Senate to a screeching halt,” he said. “Now, if these were the only four nominees who hadn’t yet been confirmed, I would speculate that the reason might be their orientations. But hundreds of nominees are stalled.”
Theriault said he doesn’t expect the Senate to take up the nominations until after the November elections.
“Then, quite frankly, who knows what will happen to them, especially if the Republicans take over,” Theriault said.