Friday, February 05, 2010

This man needs to be publicly shamed

One Senator has decided to bring the entire confirmation process to a halt in order to secure more pork for his state. According to Congress Daily, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has "placed a blanket hold on all executive nominations on the Senate calendar in an effort to win concessions from the Obama administration and Pentagon." Every judge, under secretary, and the top intelligence officers at state and Homeland Security will be indefinitely delayed because of the balckmail of one obstructionist senator.

In 2005, when it was Democrats threatening to filibuster a few judges who they honestly had problems with, Shelby was one of the Republicans who was apoplectic and threatened to get rid of filibuster altogether.
I do not think that any of us want to operate in an environment where federal judicial nominees must receive 60 votes in order to be confirmed. To that end I firmly support changing the Senate rules to require that a simple majority be necessary to confirm all judicial nominees, thus ending the continuous filibuster of them.

Inaction on these nominees is a disservice to the American people.

Far too many of the President’s nominees were never afforded an up or down vote, because several Democrats chose to block the process for political gain.

A Senate hold does not actually have the power to stop a nomination or bill from proceeding to a vote. It is nothing more than a Senator's notice that they will to filibuster the action if the Seante leadership try to bring it to a vote. However, over the last few decades, it has gained the unofficial power to stop Senate business. All that is required to overcome a hold is for the Senate leadership to call the holding Senator's bluff.

Naturally, Shelby's disgusting bahavior has been matched by gutlessness on the part of the Democrats. Shelby wasn't even present in the Senate today to announce his hold. A confused Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced it on his behalf:
He is not able to be here at the moment to state his position. Maybe we can in discussions with him make some progress on these sooner rather than later. but for the moment I'm constrained to object on his behalf.

At that point Harry reid could have called Shelby's bluff and gone ahead wit the sceduled vote. Instead, he caved in before the threat of a filibuster by someone who wasn't even there to make the filibuster. On days like this I'm ashamed to be a Democrat.

The Republican's hypocricy--their one rule for us and a different rule for the Democrats attitude--has nowhere been more on display than on the issue of filibuster and confirmations. Shelby wasn't alone in 2005 in denouncing the use of filibuster during confirmation hearings. In that year, Shelby's fellow Republican Senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions, argued on the floor of the Senate that the use of filibuster for judicial nominees was Unconstitutional. The Republican majority leader, Bill Frist, threatened to abolish the filibuster by using what the press came to call "the nuclear option," but which most Republicans preferred to call "the constitutional option." At that time, Joe Lieberman brokered a deal whereby fourteen Senators, seven Republicans and seven Democrats (Lieberman was then a Democrat), pledged to vote for cloture on judicial nominations. The Gang of Fouteen deal essentially ended filibuster for judical nominations without ending filibuster for other business.

Where are the Republicans members of the Gang of Fouteen now? Four are still in the Seanate: Olympia Snowe, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Susan Collins. Will Lieberman and his four buddies vote for cloture to overcome Shelby's holds, at least on judicial nominees. If judicial nominees deserve an up or down vote, why not those in positions relating to national security or the war on terrorism? If the Democratic leadership isn't willing to explore abolishing or limiting filibuster, will they at least occasionally call the Republicans' bluff and make them filibuster?

It's time to call our Senators and demand (politely) that they resist Shelby's shabby attempt at blackmail. While we're at it, we should call Shelby's office and let him know how shameful his actions are. Finally, we should call Lieberman and the remaining Republican Gang of Fouteen members and demand they live up to their 2005 principles.

Addenda Just in case you think it's an exaggeration to say Shelby's blackmail is motivated by pork, here is the full text of the statement issued by his office (he didn't have the guts to announce it in person and allow reporters to question him). The key part is this:
Sen. Shelby has placed holds on several pending nominees due to unaddressed national security concerns. Among his concerns is that nearly 10 years after the U.S. Air Force announced plans to replace the aging tanker fleet, we still do not have a transparent and fair acquisition process to move forward. The Department of Defense must recognize that the draft Request for Proposal needs to be significantly and substantively changed. Sen. Shelby is also deeply concerned that the Administration will not release the funds already appropriated to the FBI to build the Terrorist Explosives Devices Analytical Center. This decision impedes the U.S. military, the intelligence community, and federal law enforcement personnel in their missions to exploit and analyze intelligence information critical to fighting terrorism and ensuring American security worldwide.

The tanker in question will presumably be built by Northrop/EADS in Mobile, Alabama. The FBI improvised explosive device testing lab would presumably be built at the Redstone Arsenal outside Birmingham. If his true concern is that Those two projects are not going forward, then let's do them. We can build the tankers at Boeing's plants in true blue Seattle and the explosives lab in even deeper blue Rhode Island. If his concern is truly national security and not pork, he should be happy to withdraw his holds and vote for such a deal.

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