Tempers Flare Over a Few Nominations

Posted February 2, 2010 at 6:17pm

Senate Democrats have been crying foul this week over Republican delays of nominations, but overall, President Barack Obama’s nominees have had a confirmation rate on par with his two predecessors in their first years in office.

According to the Résumé of Congressional Activities, Obama sent the Senate 24,951 nominations last year. Of those, 23,051 were confirmed. In his first year in office, President George W. Bush sent 26,570 nominations to the Senate, of which 25,091 were approved that same year. President Bill Clinton sent substantially more nominations to the Senate during his first year in office — 42,339 — but saw a correspondingly large number — 38,676 — confirmed. The overwhelming majority of presidential nominations are noncontroversial military appointments

Despite the comparable rates of success, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took to the floor Tuesday to excoriate Republicans for holding up Obama’s nominees and wasting precious floor time to debate the president’s noncontroversial picks.

“This is another one of the endless delays we’ve had to go through here,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “We’ve had so many 30 hours of doing nothing that it’s hard to comprehend the wasted time of all the staff. Senators’ time could be put to better use.”

Referencing the botched Christmas Day terrorist attack on a Northwest Airlines flight headed to Detroit, Reid made the case for passing a handful of nominees to positions in the departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security and declared that “Republicans have repeatedly asked fearful families to put concerns on hold while they score political points.”

Reid employed the same strategy last October, when the Obama administration was without a surgeon general at the same time officials were dealing with the outbreak of a flu pandemic.

“Americans are bracing against a flu epidemic here at home and threats of terrorism from abroad,” Reid said at the time. “The president nominated someone highly experienced in both of these areas, and the Republicans are saying ‘no.'”

Obama appealed to the Senate in last week’s State of the Union address to drop the practice of holding up nominations.

“The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators,” Obama said. “Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.”

In recent days, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have delivered impassioned floor speeches calling for the chamber to move on nominations, and Democratic offices have sent a flurry of press releases on the issue.

Republicans dismissed Reid’s latest complaint about nominations, arguing that Obama has been tardy in naming judicial nominees and that many names are still lagging in committees of jurisdiction. There are currently 174 nominees awaiting action by Senate committees.

“It looks like they’re just grasping at straws as they continue blaming Republicans for the Democrats’ lack of unity,” a GOP leadership aide said. “The facts are pretty clear: President Obama’s mainstream nominees are being confirmed.”

The Senate left unconfirmed a total of 1,877 of Obama’s nominees last year, compared with 791 of Bush’s picks in his first year. Democrats privately are eager for the White House to push harder for controversial nominees like Dawn Johnsen, tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel, and are openly frustrated that GOP holds have forced them to confirm 14 nominations using time-consuming procedural tactics.

Reid has opted to fill the remaining weeks of his 60-vote majority before Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is sworn in by passing nominations. This week, the Senate is poised to confirm the nomination of Patricia Smith as solicitor of the Labor Department and Martha Johnson as administrator of the General Services Administration.

“It does highlight their obstruction when you ask unanimous consent on the floor and they object,” Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle said. “As we’re seeing this week, when we have to file cloture on these nominees it takes up a lot of floor time.”