Senate OKs Obama pick for NLRB general counsel

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted Tuesday to clear the way for approval of President Barack Obama's pick for a top post at the National Labor Relations Board, as the chamber began showdown votes over nominees that threaten to revive the partisan rancor that a similar fight aroused last summer.

Senators voted 62-37 to end Republican delaying tactics against Richard Griffin, who Obama nominated to be NLRB general counsel. Final approval was expected later.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., planned votes on six other nominees as well aimed at halting what he said were GOP attempts to block their approval. The two most controversial were Obama's picks of Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Patricia Millett to join the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

After months of Democratic accusations that Republicans were stalling Obama's efforts to fill key vacancies, the two parties reached a deal in July in which some GOP senators agreed to free several key nominees for votes. In exchange, Democrats agreed to drop a threatened effort to impose new rules weakening the powers of the Senate's minority party, currently the GOP.

As part of that deal, Obama removed Griffin as an NLRB board member, but he was to be given the general counsel slot, according to participants in that bargaining. The general counsel, who holds a four-year term, investigates and prosecutes cases before the board.

Republicans said this week that they were opposing Griffin, a Democrat and long-time labor lawyer, because the NLRB has become too pro-union. The agency's general counsel investigates and prosecutes cases before the board.

Obama named Griffin to the agency's five-member board in January 2012 as a recess appointment, used when the Senate is not in session. Republicans claimed that appointment was unconstitutional, a view that was upheld by two federal appeals courts.

Republicans are opposing Millett, arguing that by joining the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia she would tip that court toward Democratic control. That court, which gets involved in many cases involving federal regulations, is considered by many to be the second most powerful federal court, behind only the Supreme Court.

GOP senators also oppose the nomination of Watt to head the housing agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the huge government-controlled companies that own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages. They say the long-time congressional veteran lacks the technical expertise to head the agency and won't be politically impartial, charges that Democrats deny.

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Associated Press writer Henry Jackson contributed to this report.

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