Hold on Groves: Mystery Hour at the Senate

Jun 4, 2009 7:01pm

Three weeks after Robert M. Groves sailed through his confirmation hearing to lead the U.S. Census Bureau, a Republican U.S. senator has placed the nomination on hold.

As for who and why, it’s Mystery Hour at the U.S. Senate.

A Democratic staffer this afternoon suggested to our senior congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl that signs seemed to point to Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. Nope: “It’s not us,” says Bennett’s spokesman, Tara Hendershott. “We don’t have a hold.”

Someone clearly does. The majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked this evening for unanimous consent to move the Groves nomination to a vote – and the minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., objected.

 “We’re still in the clearance process,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told Karl. “He doesn’t yet have unanimous consent.”

Holds are an informal practice through which a senator can secretly ask his or her leader to prevent any measure from reaching the floor for a vote.

Suspicion may have centered on Bennett given his concerns about the 2000 Census missing 11,000 Mormons out on missions around the world, thus in his view costing Utah a congressional seat; and the use of community activists with the group ACORN in Census outreach. Nonetheless, after meeting with Groves, Bennett issued a statement calling him “well qualified” for the position.

Besides, “When we issue a hold, we go public with it,” says Hendershott.

While presumably non-fatal (consent is not “yet” in hand, Stewart said), the hold’s a different story from the warm and fuzzies that followed Groves’ hearing before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on May 15, when he ruled out the use of statistical sampling in the 2010 count, clearing away a strong Republican concern. The AP declared Groves’ nomination “all but assured” and The Wall Street Journal said his confirmation was “likely next week.”

The next week Groves indeed was approved by voice vote without objection by the committee. But silence has ensued since – and the hold looks to be the reason.

A prominent survey researcher, Groves, 60, is director of the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan and served as associate director of the Census Bureau from 1990 to 1992.

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