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Mitch McConnell speaks in Congress

Hawley blocking ex-McConnell aides’ appointments to FTC, NTSB

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been butting heads for months now on several fronts. This week, tensions between them are escalating.

We first reported on Tuesday that Hawley is blocking an effort by leadership to fast-track a year-end nominations package that includes two former aides to McConnell. Andrew Ferguson, McConnell’s former chief counsel, was nominated to serve as an FTC commissioner. And Todd Inman, who was a campaign aide, was nominated for a National Transportation Safety Board role.

When asked for comment, Hawley’s office sent us a statement that first noted the fact that both nominees once worked for McConnell and were recommended by the GOP leader for the roles.

“I have significant concerns with Senator McConnell’s views on transportation and safety policy, including rail safety, and I want to understand how Mr. Inman’s views do or do not differ,” Hawley’s statement continues. “I [also] have significant concerns about Senator McConnell’s positions on antitrust and Big Tech. I want to understand whether and how Mr. Ferguson’s views differ.”

Ferguson was McConnell’s chief counsel during the impeachments of Donald Trump, as well as during Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation process. Inman was a McConnell campaign staffer in Kentucky before serving as chief of staff for Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife, during the Trump administration.

Hawley was already angry with McConnell after the GOP leader, along with Speaker Mike Johnson, recently blocked his effort to reauthorize a compensation program for victims of nuclear contamination.

And we scooped in October that McConnell singled out Hawley during a closed-door GOP lunch after Hawley introduced legislation that would roll back the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Campaign finance is a key aspect of McConnell’s legacy, and he has vigorously opposed efforts that would restrict outside spending on political campaigns.

So it may not be surprising that Hawley is doing this — especially since the Missouri Republican has real policy differences with McConnell on the issues he named, plus a whole host of others. But it’s nonetheless rare for these types of nominees to be blocked, especially by a member of the same party. The move suggests that Hawley will continue to be a thorn in McConnell’s side.

Hawley, like most Republicans, hasn’t been present for Senate votes this week. But objections to unanimous-consent packages are typically honored regardless.

That means the Senate could process them on the floor sometime today — but only if Hawley relents — as part of the year-end nominations package. This could include a random assortment of non-controversial nominees, such as Foreign Service officers and ambassadors.

— Andrew Desiderio

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