Confirmation Bear Traps

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Yet Norton is not without political skills. As Colorado attorney general she badgered the Energy Department to clean up Rocky Flats, the infamous nuclear-weapons waste site. The Energy Committee's Democratic aides have encouraged environmental groups to dig into her past, "but we'll keep an open mind on whether she's the second coming of Jim Watt," says a Senate staff member. The fact is, Bush's nominations have given environmentalists too many targets: aside from Norton, there's former Michigan Senator Spence Abraham, a champion of the gas-guzzling SUV. Bush nominated him to head the Energy Department even though Abraham co-sponsored three bills to abolish it. Then there is Christine Todd Whitman at EPA, who as New Jersey Governor cut the state's environmental budget 30% and favored voluntary compliance with pollution standards instead of corporate fines. Whitman has also had environmental successes in New Jersey, cleaning up the water and preserving open lands from development.

It is likely that the confirmation hearings will reflect the overall tenor of the Senate in this new era. On Friday, Trent Lott and Tom Daschle hammered out a power-sharing arrangement that was approved by both sides. The deal would give the parties equal membership and staffing on the Senate committees--a huge Republican concession, though the G.O.P. would continue to control the chairmanships and, if a committee splits down the middle, have the right to bring bills to the floor for votes. Conservatives grouse that Lott gave away too much. "It's difficult for me to see how two people can drive a car at the same time," says Oklahoma's Senator Don Nickles. As for the Democrats, Daschle will try to keep his members in line--making trouble for nominees in a disciplined, coordinated way. But if Republicans balk and the power-sharing agreement falls apart, Daschle will let the dogs out. And the quadrennial ritual known as confirmation may see some true blood sacrifice.

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