This vote was on the nomination of Patricia Smith to be solicitor of the Labor Department, the agency’s top lawyer.
Republicans had threatened to hold up her consideration indefinitely with a filibuster, causing Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., to file what is known as a “cloture motion,” which, in essence, is a vote on bringing debate on an issue to a close.
If the Senate votes to “invoke cloture” – or bring debate to a close – then lawmakers must either hold a vote on the legislation, amendment or motion in question, or move on to other business. This type of motion is most often called on contentious legislation where the leadership is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of senators.
In Smith’s case, Republicans, in particular Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., were concerned about Smith’s involvement in a New York state program to combat labor law violations. Enzi, who has questioned her about how she oversaw the program, also accused her of giving the Senate inaccurate statements related to her involvement in the program.
Enzi was especially concerned about whether Smith had helped complainants find violations of the law that could be used to bring actions against businesses.
As the Labor department’s solicitor, Smith would head up the office that provides legal services to the agency, including overseeing how labor laws are applied across the country. Smith’s employment history includes several jobs litigating labor law cases, including for the New York attorney general’s office. She also has worked or several legal aid groups, focused on labor law.
“Patricia Smith--Commissioner Smith, I should say--is an accomplished attorney with a detailed knowledge of our labor laws and a deep commitment to improving the lives of working families. At present, she is commissioner of the New York Department of Labor. Since becoming commissioner of the New York Department of Labor, she has played a prominent role in helping New York's working families weather the current economic crisis,” said Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Smith was one of dozens of appointments held up by Republicans over various concerns. President Obama, frustrated with lack of progress, threatened to exercise his power to appoint people without requiring them to be confirmed while the Senate is recessed, known as “recess appointments.” Yielding to this threat, Republicans yielded their opposition to several people, including Smith, feeling it was preferable to have a fuller debate and vote.
By a vote of 60-32, the motion to bring debate to a close was adopted. Every Democrat present voted to bring debate to a close. Every Republican present voted against bringing debate to a close. The end result is that debate on the nomination of Patricia Smith to be the Labor Department’s top lawyer was closed off, and the Senate proceeded to a final vote on her nomination (see vote 18).