(Late update: The Senate confirms Robert Groves as Census Director on a voice vote following a 76-15 vote to end debate - details below).
My colleagues across the hall at Congress Daily confirm that the nomination of Robert Groves for Census director will come up for an hour of debate at 4:30 p.m. eastern time and that a "cloture vote" (to cut off debate) is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. As always, U.S. Senate floor debates are televised on the C-SPAN 2 network (also available by "live stream" online).
The background: President Obama nominated Groves in early April. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a confirmation hearing on May 15 and approved the nomination on a unanimous voice vote five days later. The nomination has not yet come to a vote because two Republican Senators placed a hold on the nomination. On Friday, Roll Call reported that the hold was placed by Republican Senators David Vitter and Richard Shelby, and TPM reported that Democratic majority leader Harry Reid would "file for cloture."
Update (4:35 EST): The debate is underway as scheduled. I will post subsequent updates on the debate here as warranted.
4:54 p.m. - Senators Vitter and Shelby lead off against Groves (and cloture). Their objection? Their questions to the Obama administration about the role in the Census of the organization formerly known as ACORN (or more formally, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) have not been answered. For a reasonable review of the issue, see this report from the Wall Street Journal.
5:05 p.m. - An even better review of the ACORN/Census red herring from the Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact.com:
Yes, the bureau does partner with organizations to help recruit workers. To date, it has 30,000 such partners.
ACORN is one.
Partners agree "to promote the 2010 Census among their constituents." As a partner, ACORN has agreed to spread the word among its people about the availability of temporary Census jobs. The U.S. Census Bureau expects to hire 1.4 million people through the course of the 2010 census, the bulk of them to do the door-to-door questionnaires, so the bureau casts a wide net to get applicants, including through its partners. Partners don't get paid, but they presumably benefit by getting the word out to members about jobs, and also by providing a public service emphasizing the importance of filling out the Census.
According to Census Bureau information provided to Congress on June 1, 2009, "ACORN and other partner organizations simply promote the availability of temporary Census jobs, but have no role in the terms or conditions of employment beyond promotion of the availability of temporary jobs. Applicants that are hired by the Census Bureau to work on the 2010 Census are required to go through a background check that includes an FBI name check and fingerprint check so that felons are not hired to work on the 2010 Census."
Partners are also encouraged to donate testing space for the millions of people who will apply for the temporary Census jobs. No payments are made for that. And lastly, partners are asked to promote full participation in the Census among their members, through newsletters, e-mails, local meetings etc. Again, there's no payment for that.
5:23 p.m. - Some memorable quotes from the three Senators -- Tom Carper (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Carl Levin (D-MI) -- that have spoken in favor of the Groves nomination.
Levin: Groves "may be the best qualified candidate ever nominated" to direct the Census.
Collins, on the helpful endorsement of Groves by the American Statistical Association: "I did not know that such an organization existed."
Carper, on what a "big deal" it is for his support for University of Michigan professor Groves: "and I'm an Ohio State guy!"
5:29 p.m. - All in all, this has not been much of a "debate." Vitter and Shelby read their statements, mostly about Acorn, and have not been heard from since. Then Carper, Collins and Levin spoke on Groves' qualification and on the issue of statistical sampling but have not mentioned ACORN. The Senate is now in a quorum call, with the vote to end cloture still likely to occur in a few minutes at 5:30.
My colleagues tell me that if the vote to end cloture is especially large -- say, 80 votes or more -- it is likely that the Senate will immediately approve the nomination by a voice vote. If there are 60+ votes for cloture, but the vote is close, the final confirmation vote could be delayed for another 30 hours of Senate business.
5:55 p.m. - The cloture vote will certainly pass. So far I count 15 no votes: Vitter, Shelby, Inhofe, Roberts, Bunning, Isakson, Chamblis, Crapo, Sessions, Conryn, Risch, Brownback, Enzi, Ensign and Barrasso. Among others, I heard Republican Senators Kyl, McCain, Martinez, Corker, Gregg, Coburn and McConnell vote "aye."
6:00 p.m. - And just like that, we have a new Census director. The cloture vote passed by a 76-15 vote and the Senate immediately approved the nomination on a unanimous voice vote. Congratulations to Dr. Groves!