Republicans successfully blocked President Obama's nominee to join the National Labor Relations Board, flexing their filibuster power for the first time since Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts joints their ranks last week.
Brown voted against seating union lawyer Craig Becker on the NLRB, but so did some Democrats, including Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., who is facing a tough re-election battle.
The vote was 52-33, with many Senators not voting because they knew the nomination lacked the 60-vote supermajority needed to advance Becker's nomination.
Republicans have been working to block Becker for months, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., first putting a hold on his nomination last year.
Republicans worried Becker would try to use the regulatory process to pass pro-union rules that lacked enough support to pass in Congress. Pro-labor groups have been touting Becker for that very purpose and his defeat is a blow to their cause.
“Craig Becker's theories about how the workplace should function, if ever put into practice, would impose new burdens on employers, hurt job creation and slow down the recovery,” Brown said after the vote.
Becker, the associate general counsel to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and past counsel to the AFL-CIO, wrote in the Minnesota Law Review in 1993 that union rules should be re-drafted to favor labor and shrink the rights of employers.
Dozens of business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers oppose Becker's nomination.
“It's one thing to come from a private law practice representing unions as clients,” McCain said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “It's quite another to come from being an office and general counsel for labor unions with substantial interest in decisions pending before the board.”
Becker told Senators at a hearing last week that he would not use his position to alter labor laws in opposition to business groups and said his 1993 article was meant to be “provocative and to ask fundamental questions in order for scholars and others to re-evaluate.”
But Senators said Becker's testimony at two separate hearings and his answers in writing to hundreds of additional questions left them worried that he would try to implement the pro-union rules.
“Mr. Becker has failed to convince me that he would not enter into the job with a preconceived agenda to unfairly tilt the playing field against employers, altering the delicate balance of current labor law,” Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said during Tuesday's debate.
Tuesday's floor debate on Becker also became a debate about unions.
Both Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, took to the floor to advocate on behalf of unions, which they said provided a much needed voice to workers, particularly those in the lowest-paying jobs.
“Unions exist and businesses exist,” Brown said. “Perhaps my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would rather only businesses exist.”
Harkin pointed out that Becker had been “unequivocal” in stating he would not try to implement the pro-union changes that Congress did not approve.
Harkin said the NLRB in in the past four years has been too slow to rule on labor violations or inform workers of their rights.
“We've got to get the agency back on track,” Harkin said.
Becker, he had hoped, would be “an important part of that effort.”
In an impromptu press conference Tuesday, President Obama denounced Republican filibuster threats and suggested that nominees who were blocked might still be installed pon a temporary basis through the use of a recess appointment. If IObama waits until Congress adjourns, he could appoint Becker to a year-long term on the board.