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Tricky timing for Senate confirmation of Kevin Washburn at BIA

President Barack Obama moved quickly to fill the top leadership post at the Bureau of Indian Affairs but election year uncertainties and scheduling on Capitol Hill pose some timing problems.

The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs position requires Senate confirmation. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee typically acts swiftly and in a bipartisan fashion on the BIA pick.

But lawmakers left Washington, D.C., yesterday just as Obama announced his decision to nominate Kevin Washburn, a member of the Chickasaw Nation. So the earliest date for a confirmation hearing is mid-September.

With the presidential election just two months after that, however, lawmakers may be reluctant to take action. And even if they do, Washburn faces the prospect of serving for a short time should Obama be defeated in November.

"I have accepted the nomination and the President of the United States has forwarded my nomination to the United States Senate for confirmation. In light of the presidential election, it is not clear when that will happen," Washburn said in a letter to the community at the law school at the University of New Mexico, where he serves as dean.

It might be possible for Obama to put Washburn to work immediately through what's known as a recess appointment. But the 112th Congress didn't officially go into a recess yesterday -- the House voted against it.

There's never been a recess appointment for the position of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs since the position was created in 1977.

In his letter, Washburn said he will continue to serve as dean at UNM while he awaits confirmation.

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Kevin Washburn, Chickasaw, nominated as Assistant Secretary (8/2)

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