(Adds Blunt’s comments in seventh paragraph)
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Senate Republicans are set to advance a GOP nominee to the Federal Election Commission, which would restore a working quorum to the campaign finance regulator but break with a tradition of confirming nominees in bipartisan pairs.
The Senate Rules and Administration Committee announced Wednesday it will hold a confirmation hearing March 10 on President Donald Trump’s nomination of James “Trey” Trainor, an election lawyer from Austin, Texas, who advised Trump’s 2016 campaign. If the committee approves him, Trainor could be confirmed by a simple majority vote in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 advantage.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), the committee’s top Democrat, said Trainor’s nomination should not advance because the White House has refused to nominate a new commissioner for a Democratic FEC seat who’s been recommended by party leaders.
“It is unacceptable that Republicans are abandoning the tradition of advancing nominees in bipartisan pairs,” Klobuchar said. “We should be working to restore Americans’ trust in our political institutions and with this partisan move, Republicans continue to take us backwards.”
Senate Democrats have recommended Shana Broussard, an FEC staff attorney, for a Democratic commission vacancy, but Trump hasn’t nominated her.
The Senate Rules Committee hasn’t held any previous confirmation hearings on Trainor, who was first nominated in September 2017.
“Trey Trainor’s confirmation will restore the quorum that is needed for the FEC to fulfill its most important functions,” Committee Chairman Roy Blunt(R-Mo.) said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg Government. “Without a quorum, the FEC cannot hold hearings, issue advisory opinions, approve enforcement actions and more. With the 2020 elections underway, it would be particularly irresponsible for Senate Democrats to stand in the way of a fully functioning FEC.”
The six-member FEC has been without a quorum of at least four commissioners for more than six months, following the August 2019 departure of Republican Matthew Petersen. That means the commission can’t take action to enforce campaign finance laws, write rules, or issue advisory opinions during an election cycle that’s already had at least $3 billion in campaign spending, according to commission figures.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans have been deeply divided on campaign finance issues, and the partisan differences have stalled efforts to fill the requisite number of seats on the panel to conduct business.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pushed to replace all the current commissioners, including Democrat Ellen Weintraub, a frequent Trump critic; Republican Caroline Hunter; and independent Steven Walther, who holds a Democratic seat. The commissioners all are serving in “holdover” status after their six-year terms expired and are all eligible to be replaced. That means Trump could fill all six seats, including those of the holdover commissioners and the three vacancies.
Democrats have called instead for simply confirming Trainor and a Democrat to restore the FEC quorum.
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