Bishop William Graves of Memphis is due for another term on the governing board of the Tennessee Valley Authority, as the result of Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander's apparent victory in a political arm-wrestling contest with Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
According to sources, the White House helped Alexander along with a little arm-twisting of its own, interceding in the showdown between Republican Alexander and Democrat Reid so as to free up a whole series of confirmations desired by the president, including, crucially, that of Bush apointee Steve Preston as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
In an agreement reached late Wednesday night, Reid withdrew his long-standing block on the reappointment for a second term on the TVA board of Graves, a bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. Simultaneously Alexander withdrew his own retaliatory block on the appointment of Dr. Ikram Khan, a Reid protégé, to the United States Institute for Peace, a non-partisan body established and funded by Congress.
Reid had objected to Graves' re-appointment this year (he served a previous term ending last year) on frankly partisan grounds. As a spokesman for the majority leader explained it late last month, the Bush administration and its congressional allies had managed to purge Democrats from the nine-member TVA board in a power play two years ago.
The Reid spokesman said that equity now required the appointment of an acceptable Democrat instead of Bishop Graves, who describes himself as a Democrat but has supported Republicans for election, including Bush and Senator Alexander.
Alexander's counter-argument was two-fold - that tradition called for the honoring of presidential appointments and that rejecting Graves, who was experienced in TVA issues, was a disservice to the Memphis area and to African Americans.
Presidential appointments require unanimous consent to be considered for confirmation, and when Alexander exercised his right to block Dr. Khan, Reid had held up on approval of a whole package of presidential appointees, including HUD designate Preston.
The agreement reached Wednesday night removes the blocks on both Graves and Khan, but the quid pro quo leaves unresolved the status of Susan Williams of Knoxville, another presidential appointee to the TVA board blocked by Reid and supported by both Alexander and Tennessee Senate colleague Bob Corker,
Alexander credited 9th Disttrict congressman Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, with help in freeing up the reappointment of Bishop Graves.