By a vote of 15-8, mainly along party lines, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (“HELP”) earlier today approved the Administration’s nomination of Craig Becker to the Labor Board. The other two nominees (Mark Pearce and Brian Hayes) received unanimous votes. The Committee’s action makes it more likely all three nominations will reach a floor vote, but opposition to the Becker nomination from Senator John McCain (R-AZ), protesting the lack of a public hearing on the controversial nominee, could delay the vote.

Calling Mr. Becker the most controversial Board nominee in a long time, Senator McCain remarked on the lack of a public hearing accorded by the leadership. The Arizona Republican said that in the absence of a public hearing on the Becker nomination, he will do everything he can to block Mr. Becker’s nomination, including placing a hold on the nomination. The Senator suggested others might do the same. 

In addition to speaking during the session, Senator McCain had written to HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), expressing his concerns with the Becker nomination and asking for a hearing. Harkin responded that McCain’s threatened move could hold up all the nominations.

Senator Harkin appeared to dismiss the concerns raised by other Senators, members of the public and the business community about Mr. Becker’s positions on labor law issues. Saying he had reviewed Mr. Becker’s writings, and thought them as typical of academics stating their arguments in a provocative manner simply to prompt discussion. Defending his decision to permit Mr. Becker’s nomination to pass out of Committee without a public hearing, Senator Harkin also stated that the HELP Committee has not held a public hearing for a non-chairman nominee to the NLRB since 1980, and that he was merely following that tradition.

In a surprise to some observers, the Ranking Member on the Committee, Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY), went along with the majority on Mr. Becker’s nomination. Mr. Hayes, it has been noted, is a former aide to the Senator and the nominations, thus far, have been treated as a group. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also voted to approve Mr. Becker’s nomination.

If Senator McCain or another Senator puts a hold on Mr. Becker’s nomination, a cloture vote by the Senate would be required to shut off debate and retain the nomination, but such a move also may represent the staking out of a negotiating position by an influential member. Like-minded colleagues might be persuaded to join Senator McCain in asking for greater scrutiny of the Becker nomination. Still, Senate Democrats may be able to muster the 60 votes needed to end debate and reach a confirmation vote on Mr. Becker and the others. Cloture votes usually are scheduled on a Friday to be held the following Tuesday. Therefore, absent a negotiated resolution, a cloture vote on Mr. Becker’s nomination could take place as early as  Tuesday, October 27th.