Waiting Game Continues on NRC Nomination


The sky lightens just before dawn behind the cooling towers of the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, Ohio, Friday, August 15, 2003, which shut down during the outage. ( (National Journal)

The White House has yet to formally nominate Republican Kristine Svinicki for a second term on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, despite assurances more than a week ago that President Obama would do just that. The delay is making a lot of people anxious.

Senate Democrats appear to be awaiting guidance from Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who have both expressed opposition to Svinicki's reappointment and hold the keys to her nomination moving forward. The two have been mum on the issue since last week, deferring to the pending White House nomination as a sign that nothing is set in stone.

"She hasn't been nominated yet," Boxer said this week when asked about a possible confirmation hearing for Svinicki, whose term expires on June 30.

Reid has not said definitively whether he plans to hold back a confirmation vote. "I am not going to draw any line in the sand. We'll see what happens." he said on April 19, after a controversy over Svinicki's reappointment erupted.

Following Reid's, most Senate Democrats have refrained from drawing their own lines in the sand or making definitive statements. Instead, Democratic members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees NRC, tiptoed around the issue when asked about it this week.

Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York all said they were not yet ready to comment or deferred to their staff or press aides. When pressed, Lautenberg told National Journal that Svinicki is "probably" a viable candidate but noted that he wasn't ready to say for sure.

For his part, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he didn't know how to respond, noting that he's not entirely sure who Svinicki is.

Even Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., who has previously expressed support for Svinicki's reappointment and lauded her credentials, backpedaled a bit in light of accusations by Reid and Boxer that Svinicki lied to Congress in her first confirmation hearing. "I know serious concerns have been raised by some folks on my side, including our leadership — questions about her veracity — and those are legitimate questions to raise in a hearing," Carper said this week. "The president wants us to confirm her and "¦ the administration will have the opportunity to make their arguments as well."

In a hearing last month, Carper was much more clear about his position, calling Svinicki "a valued member of the commission" and saying he hopes she will be reconfirmed with his support.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are confident that Svinicki's nomination may come any day. Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a big supporter of Svinicki's renomination, said they have been told that Svinicki's formal nomination could come "sometime next week."

Aside from Boxer and Reid, the only other senators who have vocally opposed Svinicki are Reid's colleague from Nevada, Republican Sen. Dean Heller, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who partly blames Svinick for the commission's relicensing last year of the Vermont Yankee nuclear-power plant in Vernon about a week after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Senate Democrats who are not on the Environment and Public Works Committee have also been cautious in expressing any support for Svinicki. Even Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who have often voted with Republicans on energy issues, were wary when speaking about Svinicki this week.

While Landrieu repeatedly deferred to her spokesperson and said she wasn't ready to comment, Begich was a bit more open. "I haven't made a decision on her yet," he told National Journal, adding that "she looks like a viable candidate."

The only clear stance among Senate Democrats was taken by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who told reporters last week that he plans to support Svinicki.

When the controversy over Svinicki's nomination blew up last week, Reid and Boxer argued that she misled Congress in a 2007 hearing about her work on the now-defunct nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. But neither Boxer nor Reid have said they would take the allegations any further.

Reid declined last week to say whether he thought Svinicki had committed perjury; when asked about it this week, Boxer walked away from reporters in silence.

Republicans have charged that Reid is against Svinicki because she was one of the four members of the five-member commission who last year clashed with NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, a former aide to Reid.