Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More on Reid and Magwood:

Other Takes on the Story

It's been an interesting week for me since I published the post about Senator Harry Reid's comments on Commissioner Bill Magwood.  One commenter said I was "too civilized."  I'm not sure I've ever been accused of that before!

Someone else contacted me and suggested that I had missed a couple of plausible scenarios.  If Obama is reelected, he will presumably want to reappoint Chairman Allison Macfarlane.  However, since Macfarlane will come up for reappointment without anyone to pair her with, positive Senate action can't be presumed.

Maybe my observations of the Washington scene go back too far!  Pairing nominations is not required, and historically, the practice has only started in relatively recent years.  Since a nomination can be held up by a single Senator, it would not take much to stall a nomination that comes in alone.  One consequence of our increasingly dysfunctional Congress is that nothing seems to get done without essentially "bribing" the other party by dangling something--or someone--it wants. 

If the Senate does not act, Obama's options will be limited.  If he can't push Macfarlane through, he probably can't get anyone else nominated either.  If he is left to choose from among the current commissioners, there are two other Democrats on the Commission, and word is that Commissioner George Apostolakis is not interested in the chairmanship.  That would leave Commissioner Magwood.

Of course, Obama could demonstrate a bipartisan spirit, and appoint Commissioner  Ostendorff as chairman.  Although he is a Republican, he has a reputation for being fair and balanced.  Historically, nuclear safety has not been a highly partisan issue, so it should be possible for someone of the opposite party to take the helm at NRC.  But, if Obama's wish to renominate Macfarlane is thwarted by the Senate, will he be in the mood to reach out to a Republican?

It is noteworthy that Senator Reid could not stop Obama from appointing Magwood as Chairman.  That action does not require Senate confirmation.  One therefore wonders if Reid's statement is really a message to the President.  If the Senate Majority Leader feels so strongly about Magwood, will Obama want to risk his ire by appointing Magwood as Chairman?

But I come back again to wondering about the timing of Reid's message.  If that was his objective, might it be better to deliver the message after the election?  Or, better still, shortly before Macfarlane's appointment ends.  In answer to this, my friend speculates that maybe Reid is also trying to send a message to Macfarlane.  Although her history seems to suggest that her views on Yucca Mountain are aligned with Reid's interests, he may be worried by her balanced statements that she will look at everything anew.

It is still not clear what he can accomplish regarding Macfarlane by making the comments he made about Magwood.  Maybe he is concerned that she will gain Republican support, and he wants to remind her of the power he wields.   

So, there are even more possibilities than I thought of before.  All still speculation, of course.  The only thing that seems certain is that, if Obama is re-elected, the issue of the chairmanship come July 1 could--dare I say it?--go nuclear.



  1. As I commented elsewhere, I saw one possible explanation of Reid's comments as an attempt to resurrect his funding. The side-effect of "burying" Yucca Mountain was that the people of Nevada began to think they no longer needed Reid to be an anti-Yucca knight, so he had to find a way to resurrect his bogeyman and keep the contributions flowing in.

  2. It is my personal opinion that although Commissioner Magwood voted to allow DOE to pull its license application, just as any other licensee is allowed to do. That makes him look like an ally of the parties that wanted it pulled. But his was purely a legal decision. Apparently at the same time, behind the scenes, he was urging staff to complete the Safety Analysis Report. That is the report that had its regulatory conclusions removed and was instead issued as several Technical Evaluation Reports. A completed SAR would have made the NRC ready for licensing. That coming to light is perhaps what caused the sense of betrayal behind those nasty words aimed at the rather mild mannered and soft spoken Magwood.