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Senators reject Bush's pick for consumer panel

Many Democrats said Gall favored companies over consumers.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Senate committee Thursday rejected President George W. Bush's choice to head the federal government's consumer watchdog agency, a decision the White House called a "real defeat for bipartisanship."

By a 12-11 vote, the Senate Commerce Committee rejected the nomination of Mary Sheila Gall to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission. By the same vote, the committee rejected a separate motion to send the nomination to the Senate floor for a vote.

Both votes matched the committee's party composition, with all 12 Democrats rejecting Gall's nomination and all 11 Republicans supporting it.

"President Bush can do better," declared Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-South Carolina, chairman of the committee.

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MESSAGE BOARD: The political spectrum  

Many Democrats had criticized Gall, a member of the CPSC's three-person board since 1991, calling her too willing to side with companies rather than consumers.

As commissioner, Gall opposed tightening safety standards on baby bath seats in 1994, although she supported similar standards several years later. She has also voted against tougher safety standards and opposed taking action on baby walkers that had been connected with injuries.

But Republicans defended Gall, saying she had taken a responsible approach to her job and had acted when the facts supported government intervention. The Bush administration accused Democratic lawmakers of playing politics.

"Mary Gall didn't lose today," Ari Fleischer, Bush's spokesman, told CNN. "Bipartisanship lost today. The Senate voted for her before. The only thing that has changed is that President Bush nominated her."

When then-President Clinton renominated Gall to serve on the commission in 1999, the Senate passed Gall's nomination "without objection," Fleischer said.

"It was good enough then, it's not good enough now," Fleischer told reporters Wednesday. "And that suggests this is a partisan action by the Senate, not an action based on substance."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, criticized Democrats before the vote.

"It is regrettable that the vote today is likely to be as partisan as the smear campaign against Mary Sheila Gall," McCain said.

CNN Producer Dana Bash and White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this report

• Consumer Product Safety Commission

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