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Washington Digest: Republicans block Obama’s Department of Justice appointee

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans voted last week to block confirmation of President Barack Obama’s choice for the second-ranking Department of Justice post.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., failed to reach the 60 votes needed to advance confirmation of James Cole to become deputy attorney general. The cloture vote was 50-40, with Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana the only Republican in support.

Obama appointed Cole to the job temporarily while Congress was out of session. Unless he is confirmed, he must step down at the end of the year.

Republicans said they opposed the "recess" appointment in general and Cole in particular over concerns that he supports civilian trials for terrorists.

"Military tribunals have many advantages to civilian criminal courts and are better equipped to deal with dangerous terrorists and classified evidence. … I am troubled that Mr. Cole does not appear to share this belief," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

Democrats supported Cole as an accomplished professional.

"He has always followed policy, not politics. He has a very distinguished career in law, and he is the type of person we like to see within the Department of Justice," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted to block confirmation. Reid supported the nomination but voted "no" as a procedural matter to reserve the right to try to move the confirmation at a later time.


House Republicans for the second week voted to advance legislation aimed at speeding domestic oil production, despite safety concerns raised by Democrats.

Lawmakers approved two bills to encourage offshore oil drilling. In one, they voted 243-179 to lift a seven-year moratorium Obama imposed last year on new offshore drilling.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., voted to lift the seven-year moratorium. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted against lifting the moratorium.

In a second vote, lawmakers decided 263-163 to speed the approval process for drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico. A similar vote was cast last week.

Heck voted in favor of speeding permits. Berkley voted against speedier permitting.

Republicans argued that the bills would put people to work and help ease rising gasoline prices by increasing domestic oil production.

"The administration’s intentional slow-walking of drilling permits has cost 12,000 jobs according to their own estimates," said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.

Democrats said Congress should insure the safety of offshore drilling before expanding it given last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

"More than 4 million barrels of oil spewed from the blown-out Macondo well, coating nearly 1,000 miles of gulf coastline … yet this Congress has not enacted a single legislative reform to improve the safety of offshore drilling," said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.

Several Democratic amendments were rejected, including one by Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, to require new permits be issued only if the applicants showed they had the capability to respond to a worst-case spill scenario.

"Let’s look at what happened at the BP oil spill. Let’s just make sure it doesn’t happen again. Another spill like that, by taking these precautions, can be avoided," Hanabusa said.

Republicans argued that the bill already included such a precaution. The amendment failed, 187-235. Berkley voted for the amendment. Heck voted against it.

Contact reporter Peter Urban at purban@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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