Vexed at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's continuing disinclination to allow Senate confirmation of President Bush's re-appointment of Bishop William Graves of Memphis to the Tennessee Valley Authority's nine-member board, Republican caucus chairman Lamar Alexander has countered with his own hold on a nominee favored by Reid..
However, Alexander denied a claim by the majority leader that he was holding up action on an entire series of presidential nominees, including that of Steve Preston as secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The Tennessee senator told the Flyer in a telephone interview Friday morning that in response to inaction on Graves and one other TVA nominee he will use his own authority to block the confirmation of Ikram Kahn as an appointee to the United States Institute for Peace, a non-partisan body established and funded by Congress. Dr. Kahn is backed by Reid.
"I've run out of patience with the Democratic leader. I've had conversations with him on the floor and off, talked to him on the phone, and tried to be reasonable, but he's ignored what I've had to say," Alexander said. The Tennessee senator contended that Reid is bucking a 75-year tradition whereby presidents have had a free hand in the matter of TVA board appointments.
"He [Reid] wants to make the appointments himself," contended Alexander, who said Reid's action was further unwarranted because Graves, bishop of the First District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, was "a self-described Democrat who votes independent." Bishop Graves was the first African American to serve on the TVA board when he was appointed in 2006 to complete a term which expired in May 2007.
The Nevada senator has indicated he wants adequate Democratic representation on the board and is apparently put off by the fact that Graves has endorsed and supported various Republicans in the past, including Alexander. Also being blocked by Reid is another TVA appointee, Susan Williams of Knoxville.
The hold-up in the two TVA appointments is part of a general stalemate in Senate confirmation of presidential nominees, although the two sides have different versions of where the holdup lies. Alexander insists that he is blocking one nominee and one only - Dr. Kahn - but a spokesman for Senator Reid contends that Alexander has scuttled a more far-reaching agreement that was reached between the White House and the Majority Leader's office only this week.
"He's being disingenuous. He's left 80 nominees twisting in the wind, including a nominee for secretary of HUD," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senator Reid. Manley said further that the background of the impasse over the Graves and Williams appointments was an "eleventh-hour" move two years ago by then Tennessee senator Bill Frist to strip the TVA Board of Democrats.
In his effort to unblock the nomination of Bishop Graves,
Senator Alexander has had support from 9th District Democratic
congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis, who has independently written Senator Reid
urging favorable action on the appointment.
With each side blaming the other for blocking important nominations at a time of crucial need, no further action on the various appointments at stake in the impasse can take place until Congress returns from a one-week recess which began Friday.