Some CPSC breaking news unrelated to the shutdown! Last Wednesday, President Trump renominated Ann Marie Buerkle, who has served as Acting Chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission since February 9, 2017, to serve as permanent Chairman of the Commission. The appointment is for a seven-year term beginning on October 27, 2018 when her current term expired. Acting Chairman Buerkle has continued to serve under the agency’s enabling statute and rules that permit a commissioner to “hold over” for an additional year pending confirmation of a new term or commissioner.
Notably, this is the third time that President Trump has nominated Acting Chairman Buerkle to be permanent Chairman of the CPSC. In 2017 and 2018, Senate leadership did not bring Buerkle’s nomination to the Senate floor for a vote leading to a process whereby the White House had to send the nomination back to the Senate for further consideration.
So what does this renomination mean for Buerkle’s prospects to finally be confirmed as Chairman?
First, the White House is clearly sticking by Buerkle to become permanent Chairman of the agency. The Administration has shown no intention of nominating someone other than Acting Chairman Buerkle—even in the face of prior, sporadic opposition to the nomination by some former Commissioners and members of Congress.
Second, speaking of opposition, Buerkle’s main detractor in the Senate, former Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in the 115th Congress, lost his 2018 election to now-Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). Senator Nelson made no secret of his opposition to Buerkle’s nomination and frequently focused his attention on disagreements with Buerkle over the regulation of portable generators. While other individual Senators, including the Committee’s new Ranking Member, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), may have policy disagreements with Buerkle, their opposition to her nomination is not likely to be as vocal or strong as former Senator Nelson’s.
Third, the political dynamic at the Commission is different than in July 2017 and January 2018 – the last two times President Trump nominated Buerkle to serve as Chairman. With the Senate’s confirmation of Commissioners Dana Baiocco and Peter Feldman this past year, the Republicans now have a majority at the agency. Buerkle, as Acting Chair, has led that new majority. Elevating her to permanent Chair will change little in the current day-to-day operations of the Commission (though, it is true that her confirmation would have a longer-term impact on the political makeup of the Commission, but that subject is for another day).
From this vantage point, Buerkle deserves an up or down vote at the very minimum, and the opportunity to lead the Commission as permanent Chairman. She has shown herself to be an astute leader of the agency over the past two years who seeks consensus and input from all product safety stakeholders—industry and consumers alike. Time will tell whether her nomination moves forward in the Senate given the current political dynamic.