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AS IT IS - United States Senate's Process of Confirming the President's Nominees

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From VOA Learning English, welcome to AS IT IS!

AS IT IS – our new magazine show in Special English. Today and in the days to come, we will be expanding on major world events and reporting on issues that concern you. Talking with newsmakers, experts and VOA's own reporters to help make sense of this quickly changing world – AS IT IS.

Hello, I'm Steve Ember.

On our show today, we tell about the United States Senate's process of confirming the president's nominees for important government positions.

We look at some of the concerns surrounding the immigration issue in the United States.

And we examine a change in how Kenya governs itself.

President Obama is awaiting Senate confirmation for several Cabinet nominees. The Senate recently approved John Kerry as the president's choice for secretary of state. Mr. Kerry had resigned earlier as a senator from Massachusetts to become America's top diplomat. Jim Tedder has our story.

Under the United States Constitution, the Senate has the power to advise and consent – give approval – on nominations sent to it by the president. For years, senators generally have let the president have the people he wanted for these jobs. But expert presidential historian Allan Lichtman says that began to change in the 1980's.

"Traditionally, of course, presidents usually get their way with appointments. And that remains the rule. However, since the 1980's, confirmations have become more bitter and more political."

That change began with the battle in 1987 over the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Senate Democrats defeated the nomination of the conservative judge. In 1991, Clarence Thomas was confirmed as Supreme Court justice, but only after a dispute in the Senate.

John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center says both political parties have used the confirmation process as territory for dispute.

"Before it was often thought that you would give the president the choice as long as it was within a certain range of acceptableness. Today many, many people from the opposition party oppose a lot of nominations."

Historian Lichtman says increased confirmation battles in the Senate are another example of America's current sharp political division. He links the nomination process to a political campaign.

"We have now in America what I call the perpetual campaign. There seems to be no deference to a president or to presidential appointments even in-between elections. We are always campaigning, and if a nominee looks like a convenient target, why not?"

Expert John Fortier says the next major confirmation battle could happen if and when President Obama has a chance to fill a place on the Supreme Court. The high court remains sharply divided with five justices generally voting along conservative lines. The other four justices often provide more liberal opinions.

President Obama says it is time for the United States to have what he calls "common sense" immigration reform. The president announced his goals for a new law last week.

Mr. Obama says immigration reform is extremely important. He wants to settle the future of the 11 million people currently living and working illegally in the United States.

"There are few things that are more important to us as a society than who gets to come here and call our country home; who gets the privilege of becoming a citizen of the United States of America. That's a big deal. When we talk about that in the abstract, it's easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of 'us' versus them. And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of 'us' used to be 'them.' "

The president says immigration reform is within reach. But he knows that it will cause an intense debate.

In Washington, a leader of the opposition Republican Party questioned what a new immigration law would do. Senator Jeff Sessions criticized what he believes has been the government's unwillingness to enforce existing rules. He said that has increased America's population of illegal immigrants.

"We believe in immigration, but we believe in the law. We believe people should wait their time and people should be accepted here – over a million a year – in an orderly process…"

Before the president's speech in Nevada, a group of United States Senators offered their own set of proposed immigration reforms.

Many farmers hope that any new immigration law changes the current guestworker program. They want to make it easier for farm workers from South and Central America to enter the United States legally. Some farmers say the current system is broken.

Kenyans will vote March fourth in general elections that will be different in an important way. For the first time, they will choose candidates for local positions created by the country's new constitution. The nation is transferring some of the powers of the central government to local control. The process is called devolution. It calls for dividing the country into 47 local governing areas known as counties.

The goal of devolution is to increase the voice of all Kenyans in their government. But VOA correspondent Gabe Joselow says some competitions for local offices could pull the country apart.

June Simms has this report….

Kenyans will vote March fourth in general elections that will be different in an important way. For the first time, they will choose candidates for local positions created by the country's new constitution. The nation is transferring some of the powers of the central government to local control. The process is called devolution. It calls for dividing the country into 47 local governing areas known as counties.

The goal of devolution is to increase the voice of all Kenyans in their government. But VOA correspondent Gabe Joselow says some competitions for local offices could pull the country apart.

June Simms has his report….

Ekuru Aukot led the team that wrote the constitution. He says the goal was to correct problems left from years of colonial rule and bad government by former Kenyan leaders. Mister Aukot said bad leadership led to special treatment for favorite groups and companies. The special treatment came to be known as "the national cake."

Mr. Aukot says devolution means people should be able to have equal chances for education and health services. He believes there will be more money to build roads and bridges and increase development. He says the devolution process also means people in all of Kenya will gain power and the chance to make decisions for themselves.

"The other concept of devolution is just that level of inclusiveness, making every part of Kenya relevant to the governance of the country. People wanted power to come close to them, they wanted to be able to make decisions for them ((and that also explains the concept of people's participation as you'll see in the constitution."))

But some Kenyans fear that new political areas will create new problems. For example, the International Crisis Group warns that competition for the new positions created by devolution add to the possibility of violence. The International Crisis Group has written a new report about Kenya. The group says candidates could try to make local disputes worse just to gain support.

The presidential nominee for the Amani coalition, Musalia Mudavadi, is a political moderate. He says ethnic alliances are still important today. But he says that Kenyans are slowly beginning to accept that issues are more important than tribes or ethnic groups.

Ekuru Aukot led the team that wrote the constitution. He says the goal was to correct problems left from years of colonial rule and bad government by former Kenyan leaders. Mister Aukot said bad leadership led to special treatment for favorite groups and companies. The special treatment came to be known as "the national cake."

Mr. Aukot says devolution means people should be able to have equal chances for education and health services. He believes there will be more money to build roads and bridges and increase development.

He said the devolution process also means people in all of Kenya will gain power and the chance to make decisions for themselves.

EKURU AUKOT: "The other concept of devolution is just that level of inclusiveness, making every part of Kenya relevant to the governance of the country. People wanted power to come close to them, they wanted to be able to make decisions for them and that also explains the concept of people's participation as you'll see in the constitution."

But some Kenyans fear that new political areas will create new problems. For example, the International Crisis Group warns that competition for the new positions created by devolution add to the possibility of violence.

The International Crisis Group has written a new report about Kenya. The group says candidates could try to make local disputes worse just to gain support.

The presidential nominee for the Amani coalition, Musalia Mudavadi, is a political moderate. He says ethnic alliances are still important today. But he says that Kenyans are slowly beginning to accept that issues are more important than tribes or ethnic groups.

Tell us what you want to hear about on our new show. We want to cover the issues and ideas that matter to you in your world, AS IT IS.

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