WASHINGTON -- The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday voted against President Bush's choice to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission, dealing the new administration its first serious nomination setback.
The vote was a potentially fatal blow for Mary Sheila Gall, who had been assailed by Democrats as too pro-business in her votes as a member of the commission. She was defeated in a party-line vote of 12-11.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Gall supporter, made a motion that her nomination be sent to the Senate floor, even with a negative recommendation, and that was defeated by the same party-line vote.
Pia Pialorsi, a spokeswoman for Republicans on the committee, said she knew of no other efforts under way to force a full Senate vote.
Moments before the vote, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer blasted Democrats for derailing the nomination.
"If they vote no, Mary Gall would not have lost today, bipartisanship would have lost," he said.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush doesn't want the current chairwoman, Ann Brown, an ally of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., to continue serving. Republicans were determining whether they could strip Brown of her chairmanship and elevate a candidate favored by Bush to the post, GOP sources said.
The vote represented a setback for Bush on the same day that the president traveled to Capitol Hill with Vice President Dick Cheney and joined Republicans there to celebrate key victories on patients' rights and energy legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had said previously that he would not bring the matter to the floor if the committee voted against her. Such a statement, he said, would sound the death knell for the nomination.
But Republicans were considering moves that could eventually force consideration by the full Senate, although McCain failed in his attempt Thursday to get it to the floor.
Gall's nomination was the first outright rejection of a Bush nominee. His first choice to head the Labor Department, Linda Chavez, withdrew amid controversy over support she provided to an illegal alien. Attorney General John Ashcroft survived a nasty confirmation battle.
Led by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrats charged that Gall, the only Republican on the three-member commission, developed a record of favoring businesses over consumers. Critics, including consumer groups, particularly zeroed in on Gall votes against new regulations for a variety of products considered potentially dangerous to children, including baby walkers and children's bunk beds.
Gall, in her confirmation hearing last week, defended her record since first named to the agency by Bush's father in 1991. She said she based each of her decisions on the facts and the law.
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