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Hogan withdraws health secretary nominee, but plans to keep him in the job

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan quietly withdrew his health secretary nomination from Senate consideration last week, aides confirmed Monday, but he plans to keep him in the job until next year.

The move leaves the administration with two unconfirmed cabinet posts with just days before the General Assembly leaves town for the year, a situation complicated by a new provision passed be the legislature that forbids Hogan from paying salaries to unconfirmed cabinet secretaries past June.

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The governor had criticized the Senate for not swiftly approving Dennis R. Schrader to lead the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and on Friday decided to remove Schrader from consideration.

But he will be nominated to the post again next year, Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said Monday, and will continue serving in the job until then.

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"We hope that cooler heads will prevail," Mayer said.

Earlier this year, the Senate Executive Nominations Committee recommended the full Senate reject Acting Planning Secretary Wendi Peters' nomination, and Hogan withdrew it. Mayer said Monday that Peters "retains the governor's full confidence." Mayer would not comment on how much longer she would remain on the job.

The maneuver comes as the General Assembly passed a budget that expressly says the governor cannot spend tax dollars on the salary of an acting secretary "who was a recess appointment in 2016 and whose nomination as secretary was put forward and was not acted upon by the Executive Nominations Committee, or whose nomination was rejected by the Executive Nominations Committee and whose nomination was withdrawn before the full Senate acted."

Mayer said the administration does not believe that provision would withstand a court challenge.

Mayer said the administration withdrew Schrader's nomination because "we were told that he was not going to be voted on. He's too important and is too qualified to be left hanging in the wind, and to whatever political whim is in the air."

Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller denied that lawmakers weren't going to hold a vote.

"They can play whatever games they want to but he was going to get voted on," Miller said.

Miller told reporters that were Hogan to put Schrader's name forward again before the end of the session he thinks the Senate would vote to confirm him.

"All he has to do is withdraw his withdrawal," Miller said. "Bring him back and we'll confirm him."

But if Hogan instead allows Schrader to remain in office without resubmitting his name, Miller said it was doubtful he would be confirmed by the Senate next year.

Miller said he had previously told a number of people in Hogan's administration that Schrader's nomination would be voted on and that he would personally vote in favor of him. Sen. J. B. Jennings, the Republican leader in the Senate, said Miller told him last week that the nomination would be taken up.

Miller said Schrader was definitely going to get a vote and would have been confirmed.

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"Why they pulled him I have no idea," he said. "He had his problems. He was a journeyman put in charge of an important department."

Sen. Bill Ferguson, chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee, said his panel had planned to hold votes on Hogan's nominees this week. The Baltimore Democrat said he received no explanation for the withdrawal.

Schrader likely had enough votes on the committee to be confirmed, Ferguson said. The other nominees also were likely to be approved.

Ferguson said he expects the nominees whose names were withdrawn to leave their positions.

"I would hope that this is in no way is an attempt to circumvent Maryland's Constitution," he said. "I would expect that they will all be no longer serving in their capacity after the governor has withdrawn his support of their candidacy."

Ferguson said there is no precedent for a governor leaving a nominee whose nomination has been withdrawn in the same position afterward.

"I certainly would never expect the governor to do such a thing to the people of Maryland," Ferguson said.

He said there is nothing that would prevent the governor from naming the withdrawn nominees to other posts.

Also on Monday, the administration withdrew two pending nominees to the Maryland State Board of Education and three pending nominees to the Health Care Commission. Mayer added that about 100 of Hogan's recess appointments have not been approved. The legislature adjourns April 10.

Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this report.

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