Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Main Justice Wednesday that President Barack Obama should consider withdrawing his nominee to lead the Justice Department Tax Division.
Mary L. Smith, who was first tapped for the post in April 2009, has languished in the Senate over Republican concerns about her lack of tax law experience. The Senate Judiciary Committee first approved her in June without any Republican support and her nomination was returned to the White House in December. Obama re-nominated her in January and she was reported out of committee again in February without any backing from Republicans.
The ex-partner at the Schoeman, Updike & Kaufman LLP and former in-house counsel to Tyco International Ltd., the international security products and services conglomerate, is not a tax lawyer or tax law specialist. In February, she started at the DOJ as Senior Counsel to Assistant Attorney General Tony West in the Civil Division, while she waits for the Senate to move on her nomination.
“I think they should bring in a more talented … knowledgeable tax person,” Sessions said.
The DOJ has defended Smith, who served on the Obama DOJ transition team overseeing the Tax Division. They said she has “extensive experience in financial litigation” and would be a “significant asset to the Tax Division.”
“We’ve certainly been working with people in Congress and the White House to try and get her a vote, it’s our hope that we will be able to get her a vote,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a news conference this week. “We need all of these people — Assistant Attorney Generals. We need U.S. Attorneys confirmed. We need to have judges confirmed. We’ll have a Supreme Court nominee who will be named relatively soon that we’d like to have consideration of that person done as quickly as we can.”
A Democratic aide told Main Justice that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would have to file for cloture to cut off debate on her nomination. The aide said the minority leadership is holding up any nominee who is opposed by all Republicans in committee.
But Sessions said he hasn’t heard any discussion about moving her nomination.
Smith is the only Assistant Attorney General nominee who is still waiting for a vote in the Senate.
She was one of three nominees returned to the White House in December after waiting months for a vote in the Senate and re-nominated in January. One of the nominees, Christopher Schroeder for the Office of Legal Policy, was confirmed last month. The other nominee, Dawn Johnsen for the Office of Legal Counsel, withdrew her nomination last month.
Schroeder was only opposed by a few Republicans in committee. Johnsen received no GOP support in committee.
Additional reporting by Ryan J. Reilly.