Ann Marie Buerkle, an Auburn native and former congresswoman, may not serve as chair of an independent federal agency after all.
The U.S. Senate returned Buerkle's nomination to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission to President Donald Trump last week, according to congressional records. It was one of nearly 100 nominations returned by the Senate due to objections raised by at least one senator.
The Senate usually rolls over consideration of nominations into the next year. But a nomination will be returned to the president if a senator objects. It's unknown which senator objected to Buerkle's nomination.
Because the Senate sent the nomination back to the president, Trump must renominate Buerkle or select someone else for the post.
"This is a procedural step where the White House submits paperwork again and the Senate Commerce Committee votes again prior to a Senate vote," said Joseph Martyak, director of communications for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. "The acting chairman looks forward to a quick completion of the process early in the new year."
Buerkle's nomination to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission was criticized by consumer groups and some Democratic senators. At her confirmation hearing in September, she faced tough questions from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, about her position on regulations, including why she favored a voluntary standard instead of a mandate for manufacturers of portable generators.
A New York Times story published earlier this month didn't help Buerkle's cause. The story, titled "Trump Pick to Head Consumer Safety Board Is Seen as Too Close to Industries," outlined the concerns with her nomination and that she didn't usually support large penalties or tougher standards for the industries the agency regulates.
Public Citizen is one of the consumer groups that opposed Buerkle's nomination. Remington Gregg, the organization's counsel for civil justice and consumer rights, said one reason why they are concerned about Buerkle leading the agency is they don't think she believes in its mission.
"We have not seen a commitment from Ms. Buerkle ... We feel so strongly that she is the wrong person to lead this commission," Gregg said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Buerkle has been serving as acting chair of the commission since February. She ascended to the post not long after Trump was sworn in as president.
Buerkle first joined the commission in 2013 when she was nominated by President Barack Obama for a seat on the five-member panel. She was recommended for the appointment by current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The majority of the commission, which oversees safety of consumer products ranging from off-road vehicles and portable generators to children's toys, is typically controlled by the party that holds the White House. When Buerkle was nominated by Obama, it was to fill one of two Republican seats on the panel.
When Trump took office and Buerkle became acting chair, she was in the unusual position of being the commission's leader while in the minority. Buerkle is now the lone Republican member of the commission after the departure of Joseph Mohorovic, who resigned in October to join a law firm.
Trump nominated Dana Baiocco, a Republican, to succeed Democratic commissioner Marietta Robinson on the panel. Robinson's term expired in October. However, like Buerkle, Baiocco's nomination was returned to the president.
Buerkle was born and raised in Auburn. She began working as a registered nurse until graduating from the Syracuse University College of Law in 1994. She was an assistant New York state attorney general for 12 years before opting to run for Congress in 2010. She defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei by 648 votes.
She served in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013. She lost her re-election bid to Maffei in 2012. But she wasn't out of government long. Obama appointed her to the Consumer Product Safety Commission four months after she left Congress.