Dawn Johnsen, nominated to be assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, may have to wait at least another three weeks for a vote in the Senate.
Votes related to the federal budget are occupying most of the Senate’s time this week, and the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says that it has not reached an agreement with Senate Republicans for a time to debate Johnsen’s nomination. Democrats hope to reach an agreement on the timing in order to avoid the lengthy procedures involved if Reid has to move to cut off debate on the floor.
The Senate is scheduled to begin its two-week Easter recess at the end of the week, pushing a confirmation vote to the week of April 20 at the earliest.
President Barack Obama announced his choice of Johnsen Jan. 5, the same day he announced three other nominees for top Justice Department spots. The Senate has confirmed the three others.
The Office of Legal Counsel provides legal and constitutional advice to the executive branch, and it has been at the center of debates over the legality of waterboarding and other anti-terrorism tactics. Johnsen, who led the office for a year during the Clinton administration, was a harsh critic of the office’s work under President George W. Bush.
A sharply divided Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed her nomination March 19 on a party-line vote. The only exception was Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the committee’s ranking Republican, who voted “pass” because he said he needed more time. Specter has said he plans to meet again with Johnsen before the Senate votes, but two sources say the meeting has not occurred yet.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), citing Johnsen’s criticisms of Bush national security policies, accused her of lacking “the seriousness and necessary resolve” to fight terrorism, and other Republicans have targeted her work as legal director for NARAL Pro-Choice America from 1988 to 1993. Democrats say her record is being distorted and that she’s more than qualified for the job, having worked there in the 1990s and co-written a widely circulated paper in 2004 outlining principles for the office to follow.