The Cable

Senate confirms two national security nominees before snow recess

Amid the brouhaha over Senators "holds" on Obama's nominees, the Senate was able to confirm two national security related appointments Tuesday: Clifford Stanley and Philip Goldberg.

Senators were scrambling to finish business Tuesday evening as the snowstorm descended upon Washington and threatened to close down Congress for the rest of the week. Next week's President's Day recess would follow right after, so Tuesday was the certain last day available to clear any pending business.

Stanley is now clear to become the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness and Goldberg can now assume the post of assistant secretary of state for Intelligence and Research, the head of the INR bureau.

"The secretary of defense has been waiting for this, as I've indicated, for weeks and weeks... finally got that done," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV,  expressing his well-known frustration over the logjam of nominees due to holds.

Reid tried to "hotline" more nominations to clear the Senate before it adjourned, but only these two were able proceed without objections by the time Reid took to the floor to give his nightly closing remarks. Caryn Wagner, Obama's nominee to become the top intelligence official at the Homeland Security Department, was also hotlined, but wasn't able to be confirmed unanimously.

"What is that about?" Reid asked himself in his floor speech, "It's about people trying to destroy our country... the most evil people in the world are coming, trying to do harm to Americans in our homeland. But... they're holding him up because of something that no one really knows."

Reid called out Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn as being responsible for the Wagner hold, somewhat breaking protocol by naming the perpetrator of a "secret" hold.

"He was nice enough to call me and tell me," Reid said.

The nomination of Laura Kennedy is also being held up. Obama wants to give her Ambassador level rank ahead of her role as lead representative to the upcoming conference on disarmament.

Reid reiterated Obama's threat to use recess appointment to get his choices seated if the Senate's intransigence continues.

"I think, frankly, the president should recess all of them," Reid said.

The Cable

Dicks to replace Murtha as defense spending cardinal

Washington Rep. Norm Dicks, shown here shaking hands with actor Chris Klein, has effectively taken over control of the House defense appropriations subcommittee and is expected to be voted its next chairman following the unexpected death of John Murtha, a democratic house leadership aide told The Cable.

"Mr. Dicks is now acting chair of defense appropriations and likely will be approved by the caucus for it permanently, should he choose that over [his current chairmanship of] the interior subcommittee," the aide said.

That confirms the somewhat less definitive statements by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, who told reporters Tuesday, "My expectation is, assuming the system works as it has historically worked in terms of seniority on the committee, that an extraordinarily able member of the Congress of the United States, very well-rounded in defense policy who has served on the committee for well over two decades, Norm Dicks, will presumably take the chairmanship."

The Dicks ascension spells trouble for the Air Force, which has been battling to complete the first part of its $100 billion contract for a new fleet of aerial refueling tankers. Dicks represents a district where Boeing is a major employer and campaign donor. He makes no excuses for defending Boeing's interests at every turn.

Boeing is one of two competitors for the contract. The Air Force initially selected the consortium of Northrop Grumman and the North American division of EADS, but Boeing successfully protested that award. Dicks could also thwart the administration's plans to stop building the C-17 cargo aircraft, also produced by Boeing.

"For the past 30 years or so, one would have been wise to bet on the town of Johnstown, PA," said one senior congressional aide, referring to Murtha's district, which saw a multi-billion-dollar windfall during Murtha's rein as chairman, "Now it's time to buy Boeing stock."

In Congress, the use of leadership positions to drive dollars to constituents rarely fails to raise questions about the conflicting responsibilities of representing a district and looking out for the best interests of the nation. But earmarks and pork-barrel spending are a legal and time-honored part of the system.

"This is just the way some of these guys work, If they can do something for their districts, they will," the aide said. "And there's a good argument to be made that's what they were sent there to do."

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