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GOP Leaders Are Irritated by Smooth Confirmations

Frustrated by a series of toothless confirmation fights, Senate Republican leaders are asking their Members to keep their powder dry on President Barack Obama’s future nominees until their hearings are complete.

GOP leaders had hoped to at least draw blood against Eric Holder, Obama’s pick for attorney general, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. But Geithner easily won confirmation last week despite questions about his tax filings, and Holder is expected to be confirmed today by a wide margin despite his involvement in several controversial Clinton-era pardons.

“Leadership has encouraged Members of the relevant committees to withhold their support or opposition [publicly] until they’ve completed a thorough hearing,” one Republican leadership aide said, adding that “it’s not very helpful when members of the committee pledge their support or pledge their opposition before the hearings even start.”

Although Senate Republicans had hoped to duplicate the kind of grueling, politically costly hearings that Democrats forced during former President George W. Bush’s administration, thus far none of Obama’s nominees has had a difficult time making it through the Senate.

Republicans pointed to a number of reasons the hearings have lacked fireworks. Obama has drawn a number of his Cabinet nominees, including former Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), from Congressional backgrounds, and Senators are generally reluctant to treat their current or former colleagues too harshly.

A number of Obama’s first round of picks also drew quick bipartisan praise from outside organizations and were generally deemed qualified enough to not create much controversy.

But in the case of Holder — and to a lesser extent, Geithner — Republican Senate leaders had hoped to use the committee hearings to grill him and exert pressure on the new administration.

Although Republicans have acknowledged that neither Holder nor Geithner was ever in serious danger of not being confirmed, they argued the hearings provide the minority party a chance to extract commitments from appointees that can be leveraged against the administration down the line.

The lack of a tough grilling of Holder has proved particularly frustrating for the GOP leadership, sources said. Prior to his favorable vote in the Judiciary Committee last week, Republicans on the panel had signaled they were willing to go on the attack against him.

Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and a handful of the committee’s Republicans took Holder to task not only for his involvement in several of then-President Bill Clinton’s pardons, but also on whether he would be willing to stand up to Obama.

But despite these efforts, the storm of tough questions never materialized, with many Members, such as Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), focusing more on substantive policy matters.

Holder — who Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had all but endorsed before the Judiciary hearing and who had won praise from several other Republicans on the committee, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) —breezed through his one day of testimony and was confirmed by an overwhelming 17-2 vote last week.

“I’ve never heard more locker-room talk before,” one Republican said after the committee vote.

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