Sen. Hawley blocks vote-less confirmation of Biden nominees backed by GOP Leader McConnell

 December 21, 2023

In an effort to comply with statutory requirements for bipartisan membership on certain federal boards and commissions, President Joe Biden solicited the advice and recommendations of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in naming a couple of his presidential nominees.

Two of those McConnell-backed GOP Biden nominees were set to be confirmed by a Senate declaration of unanimous consent alongside several of Biden's Democratic nominees, but that procedure was halted when Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) denied consent and placed a hold on McConnell's nominees, according to The Hill.

Those two nominees, both former aides for McConnell, are Andrew Ferguson and Todd Inman, who were nominated by Biden to fill Republican vacancies on the Federal Trade Commission and National Transportation Safety Board, respectively.

Biden's GOP nominees recommended by McConnell

On July 3, a White House statement revealed that "President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to serve as Republican members of boards and commissions that are required, by statute or longstanding practice, to include bipartisan membership."

Included on that list was Ferguson, Virginia's solicitor general who had previously served as "Leader McConnell’s chief legal advisor and judicial confirmation strategist," and before that as a top aide to former Senate Judiciary Committee Chairmen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), among other relevant experience for service as an FTC commissioner.

Just a few weeks later in July, the White House released another list of Biden nominees that included J. Todd Inman to be a member of the NTSB, whose relevant experience included having served previously as a top aide to Sen. McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, when she was Transporation secretary during the Trump administration.

"We risk giving away too much"

According to The Hill, those two McConnell-backed Biden nominees were packaged together with a host of other presidential nominees that Senate leadership hoped to confirm via unanimous consent without any debate or even a vote -- only for Sen. Hawley to throw a wrench in that plan with a declared hold on the McConnell recommendation.

In a Wednesday letter to McConnell, Hawley referenced the package of nominees and wrote, "Many of these Biden nominees will no doubt advance policies and values antithetical to those held by members of the Republican Conference. By agreeing to such a negotiated package in exchange for just a few Republican appointees you have personally deemed a priority, I believe we risk giving away too much."

The Missouri senator noted the need for "careful evaluation" of the nominees and said, "If Republicans are planning to install dozens of Biden nominees for positions across the federal government -- without a vote -- in exchange for just a handful of our own selections, I want to be sure that we get our nominees right."

Hawley wants answers to his questions

"For example, Andrew Ferguson, nominated to be a Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), should answer additional questions on his philosophy concerning Big Tech, given the importance of that issue to our Conference," Sen. Hawley wrote in the letter.

He continued, "I also believe that Todd Inman, who is under consideration for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), should be asked to further articulate his views on various transportation policies, including rail safety and autonomous vehicles."

The Missouri senator attached to his letter a list of pertinent questions and requested an opportunity to meet personally with the McConnell-backed nominees, and added, "As you are aware, I am currently withholding my consent for these nominees to be confirmed without a floor vote -- as is any senator’s right to do -- until I and others can evaluate satisfactory responses to these important policy questions."

Apparent extension of ongoing feud between Hawley and McConnell

The Hill reported that Leader McConnell declined to respond to a request for comment about Sen. Hawley's hold on confirmation of his recommended Biden nominees to the FTC and NTSB, and instead said nothing as he returned to his office from the Senate floor.

The outlet further noted that this appears to be a continuation of or related to the ongoing feud between the more populist outsider Hawley and GOP establishmentarian McConnell over their disagreements about the policy agenda and direction of the party.

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