Locke Cabinet nomination rolls along
Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke appeared headed for confirmation as commerce secretary after sailing through a Senate hearing Wednesday...
WASHINGTON — Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke appeared headed for confirmation as commerce secretary after sailing through a Senate hearing Wednesday.
Locke sought to quell Republican concerns that the administration wants to politicize the 2010 census by having the director of the Census Bureau report to top White House officials rather than to the commerce secretary.
Locke made it clear that he'd be in charge, and he ruled out using "statistical sampling" as a way of ensuring minorities won't be undercounted. He warned that planning for the census was behind schedule, however.
He also fielded a barrage of questions and comments about digital television, broadband computer connections, and a range of issues, from Alaska's Denali Commission to a $40 billion contract for Air Force refueling tankers to weather modification.
Locke was President Obama's third choice for the post. The other two, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, withdrew. If confirmed, Locke would be the first Cabinet secretary from Washington state since the Carter administration in the 1970s.
Locke was nominated three weeks ago.
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said his panel could vote on the nomination as early as today, if Locke is able to answer written questions from the members.
None of the Republicans on the committee indicated they'd vote against Locke, and many said they'd support him.
Rockefeller said that he and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the panel's top Republican, had reviewed Locke's background check by the FBI and his financial statements.
"They were clean," Rockefeller said.
"Boring would be a better word," Hutchison said.
The toughest exchange came at the end of the two-hour hearing, when Hutchison pressed Locke about whether he'd lift a Bush-era rule that prohibited using the Endangered Species Act as a tool to limit greenhouse-gas emissions and control global warming. A recently passed spending bill would allow the commerce and interior secretaries to withdraw the rule without following all the notification and public-comment-period requirements, Hutchison said.
"That's a little outside my league," Locke said. "It's an area of which I have almost no knowledge."
Hutchison found Locke's response unacceptable and indicated that she'd ask him to answer written questions about the issue.
Many committee members asked whether the Commerce Department was ready for the switch from analog to digital television, which has been delayed until June.
The department had been swamped with requests for government-provided coupons to help pay for converters for those who don't have cable or satellite.
Locke said the department will have worked through a backlog of more than 4 million coupon requests by next week and will have a 10-day turnaround on arriving ones.
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