Senate Confirms Judge, FEMA Chief, Interior Secretary
White House aide Brett M. Kavanaugh won Senate confirmation as an appellate judge Friday after a three-year wait, a new victory for President Bush in his drive to place a more conservative stamp on the nation’s courts.
Bush said Kavanaugh would be “a brilliant, thoughtful and fair-minded judge.”
Confirmed on a 57-36 vote, Kavanaugh had been warmly praised by Republicans but widely opposed by Democrats, who had briefly threatened to filibuster his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The Senate also confirmed R. David Paulison on Friday as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Dirk Kempthorne as Interior secretary before leaving for a Memorial Day recess.
Paulison has held the FEMA job on an acting basis since Michael D. Brown was forced to resign in September over the agency’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina.
Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) had said he would block Paulison’s nomination to protest FEMA’s failure to develop an appeals system for property owners whose flood insurance claims were rejected, but he dropped the threat after being assured that FEMA would establish the appeals process. Paulison was confirmed without objection.
Kempthorne, 54, a two-term Idaho governor and former Republican senator, succeeds Gale Norton. Kempthorne was sworn in later Friday at the White House.
Democratic critics of Kavanaugh said the 41-year-old White House staff secretary’s record spoke of loyalty to Bush but was thin on courtroom experience.
“Mr. Kavanaugh is a political operative,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “I can say with confidence that Mr. Kavanaugh would be the youngest, least experienced and most partisan appointee to the court in decades.”
His confirmation represented a victory for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a possible 2008 presidential candidate, whose efforts to fill more federal court seats with Bush’s nominees have been bedeviled by Democratic objections. Five weeks ago he informed the Senate that he expected Kavanaugh to be confirmed by Memorial Day.
After the vote, Frist told reporters he hadn’t yet decided on plans for the next judicial nomination he has vowed to bring up for a vote -- Terrence W. Boyle, Bush’s pick for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. That nomination is troubled by conflict-of-interest charges, and Democrats have said they definitely would filibuster it.