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DeMint, Tenenbaum put past behind them

WASHINGTON -- In politics, few bridges stay burned forever -- and five years is a lifetime.

Sen. Jim DeMint and Inez Tenenbaum, once formidable foes in a nationally watched campaign, had a friendly visit Wednesday to discuss her pending nomination to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The amicable meeting was a far cry from their hard-hitting 2004 Senate campaign against each other.

"She is ready to go, and I think I know better than most how capable and determined she is," DeMint said.

Tenenbaum, who was South Carolina public schools superintendent from 1998 to 2006, declined to comment on the 30-minute meeting in DeMint's Capitol Hill office.

DeMint, a Greenville Republican, said the two of them didn't discuss their 2004 race to replace Sen. Fritz Hollings. DeMint, then a U.S. representative, defeated Tenenbaum after a contentious campaign.

"I guess that's pretty much history," DeMint said. "I don't think there was very much bitterness there."

President Barack Obama announced his choice of Tenenbaum, a Lexington Democrat, to head the product-safety panel May 5, but he hasn't sent her nomination to the Senate. White House aides said Wednesday they had no updates on when he would do so.

DeMint pledged to shepherd Tenenbaum's nomination through the Senate Commerce Committee, on which he sits, and to introduce her to other senators in advance of her Senate confirmation vote.

DeMint said he expected the committee to receive the formal nomination by next week. He hopes the panel will hold her confirmation hearing next month and move her nomination to the Senate by the July 4 break.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican, also backs Tenenbaum for the produce-safety commission's top post.

DeMint said his aim is for the Senate to confirm Tenenbaum by a unanimous voice vote.

"I think we can move her through pretty quickly," he said. "I'd be real surprised if we even voted on it (in a roll call) on the (Senate) floor."

Tenenbaum, 58, co-chaired Obama's presidential campaign in South Carolina and was the first state leader to endorse him.

DeMint said he and Tenenbaum discussed some of his concerns with major legislation Congress passed last year -- over the senator's protests -- to give the agency more clout and toughen consumer-safety regulation.

DeMint said he met recently with a group of South Carolina librarians who fear the new law might compel them to throw out some older children's books because they contain lead-based ink.

"Children are not going to eat several pages of a book," DeMint said.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission became largely dormant under President George W. Bush, its funding slashed and only two of its five seats filled when he left office Jan. 20.

Obama's proposed fiscal 2010 budget contains $107 million for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a 71 percent increase over its funding level two years ago.

By law, the president can appoint three members from his party, with the other two going to Republicans or independents.

Tenenbaum would replace Republican Nancy Nord as the panel's chairwoman. Bush named Nord, a former Eastman Kodak lobbyist, to head the commission in 2005. Democrats have assailed her as an industry hack with little interest in consumer safety.

DeMint noted that Republican and Democratic nominees to the federal agency traditionally advance in tandem. Congressional sources said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, hasn't settled on a nominee to recommend to Obama.

In their 2004 race, Tenenbaum accused DeMint of pushing a tax hike in the form of a flat tax, while DeMint said South Carolina's public schools had continued to fail under her helm.

Now, DeMint is confident of Tenenbaum's ability to run a significant federal oversight commission.

"Children's product safety is really, really important, and I think she'll do a good job," he said. "She's well-organized and has administered a complex (state) agency with politicians all around her and second-guessing her."