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December 10, 2016

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White House backs NRC Chairman Jaczko against calls for his ouster

The four Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners looking to the White House to intervene in their standoff with Chairman Gregory Jaczko will be disappointed. White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said tonight that the president is sticking with the guy he put in charge.

In a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrel Issa, Daley wrote that “while there are tensions and disagreements among the Commissioners, these management differences have not impaired the Commission’s ability to fulfill its mission.”

Daley blamed the frustrations with Jaczko on peculiarities of the NRC’s structure that have been in place since 1980, and not on Jaczko himself. As for Jaczko, Daley said, he “acted within his legal authority,” acknowledging that members of the commission always have the ability “to bring a particular matter before the full Commission for a vote.”

The NRC puts a lot of power in the hands of the chairman. The chairman -- Jaczko, in this case -- is the CEO of the body, as Daley explained it, while the four other commissioners are to play a policy-development role, most notably by casting votes on issues that come before the commission.

In his letter to Issa, Daley said that he and a White House lawyer met independently with each of the commissioners after they sent him a letter, dated Oct. 13, registering complaints about Jaczko. Daley also declined Issa’s invitation to send a White House representative to testify at the oversight panel hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning.

The White House’s support of Jaczko is a big win for those opposed to development of the Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository, as many in Congress -- mostly Republicans, but some Democrats as well -- look to re-start development at the site.

Jaczko, a former advisor to Sen. Harry Reid, is opposed to the Yucca Mountain project, as is Reid.

While White House support will not end opposition to Jaczko, and cannot protect his job absolutely, it makes it very difficult to remove or demote him.

Complaints from the other commissioners aren’t enough to give a chairman the heave-ho: To fire Jaczko over the White House’s objections would require some sort of impeachment proceeding, which would require the coordination of the House and the Senate -- not to mention proof that Jaczko’s conduct meets the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard, which no one has accused Jaczko of even in the sharpest of criticisms that have been levied.

While there may be enough of a political groundswell against him in the House to carry an impeachment recommendation, it’s highly unlikely that Democrats would turn on an Obama appointee in the Senate, especially one so heartily supported by Reid and the president’s closest advisers.

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