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Senate Democrats race to install new NLRB picks

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Congress,Sean Higgins,Senate Democratic Conference,NLRB,Analysis

Kent Yoshiho Hirozawa and Nancy Jean Schiffer answered questions before the the Senate Health, Education, Labor an Pensions Committee this morning, less than a week after their nominations to the National Labor Relations Board were announced and just one day after they met with Senators. The committee is expected to hold a vote on their nominations Wednesday, a breath-takingly quick march through the approval process.

The pace is the result of a deal Senate Republicans struck with the Democratic majority last week to avoid a threatened filibuster showdown. The deal involved the White House pulling two of its five NLRB nominees, Richard Griffin and Sharon Block. Instead they were replaced Hirozawa and Schiffer.

Hirozawa is currently the chief counsel to the NLRB’s chairman, Mark Pearce. Schiffer is a top AFL-CIO lawyer. Both picks were reportedly made in consultation with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

As part of the deal, the GOP agreed to expedite their nominations. Ordinarily, the committee is supposed to get the vetting documents on nominees at least five days before a hearing.

The sped-up hearing is further proof of just howe big the Democrats won the recent filibuster showdown.

Republicans objected to Block and Griffin because they were recess appointed by President Obama last year, despite the Senate not technically being in recess. Three courts have since ruled that such appointments are unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is set to hear the case later this year. Republicans argued that Block and Griffin’s re-nominations were therefore tainted and threatened to filibuster them.

The GOP objections were almost certainly a cover story though. Conservative and Big Business groups had been complaining about the NLRB’s pro-labor tilt. Filibustering Block and Griffin would have resulted in an NLRB with either a Republican majority (if Democrats proceeded with votes just on the other three nominees, two of whom were GOP picks) or an NLRB without a working quorum (if Democrats rejected dropping the nominees and Republicans filibusterd in response).

Big Labor pushed Democrats hard to get the NLRB nominees, including Griffin (a former top lawyer for the International Union of Operating Engineers) and Block (a former Senator ted Kennedy staffer), through the Senate. IUOE spent nearly a $1 million lobbying the Senate in June.

Republicans backed down when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened to end the 60-vote filibuster rule. The fig leaf the Republicans got in the deal was dropping the Block and Griffin nominations. But Democrats and their Big Labor allies will get their main wish: a functioning, five-member Democratic majority NLRB.

In a final jab at the GOP, the White House is now reportedly moving to appoint Griffin as the NLRB’s general counsel, one of its most powerful positions. While the position requires Senate approval, the current general counsel, Lafe Solomon, has been serving without Senate confirmation for three years.

 

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