June to Showcase Senate Fight Over Nominations

Posted June 5, 2010 at 6:00pm

Senate Democrats return to work next week planning to continue to wage their months-long war against what they view as GOP obstruction of President Barack Obama’s nominations.

Twenty-six of the more than 100 nominations lingering on the Senate’s calendar are judicial appointees, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) this week called on Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to come to an agreement to unlock them. Also among the stalled nominees are three picks for the Marine Mammal Commission, a trio that Democrats say must move now given the Gulf Coast oil spill.

Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle said Democrats are frustrated over the slow pace of Senate confirmations and accused Republicans of creating unnecessary delays.

“Republicans are continuing their record of delay and obstruction,” Lachapelle said. “Unfortunately this time it is with the President’s nominees who are essential to the operation of our government, spanning numerous departments and agencies. It is alarming that in times of crisis, such as the terrible situation in the Gulf, that essential positions are not filled simply because one or more Senators have a problem which is often unrelated to the nominee that is waiting to be confirmed.

“There is simply no reason for these nominations not to be confirmed and these essential positions within our government to be filled,” she added. “Unfortunately, it is yet another example of Republicans putting politics ahead of the best interests of the American people.”

Reid has outlined a packed legislative agenda for the rest of the summer, one that includes confirmation of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, the Wall Street reform measure, a package of tax extenders and possibly energy reform. While the chamber is unlikely to get to Reid’s entire wish list, there is precious little floor time to spend on debate and back-to-back cloture votes on stalled nominees.

Facing such an uphill battle, Democrats want to stay in front of the nominations issue over the next four weeks to try to unlock at least a few of Obama’s selections and score a few political points in the process.

Leahy, in a letter this week to McConnell and Reid, asked that McConnell provide Reid with a list of nominations that Republicans will try to block so Democrats can begin the process of trying to advance some of the stalled nominations. McConnell offered a list of 60 nominations for confirmation before the Memorial Day break, but Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who was managing the floor debate at the time, denied him. McConnell said the exchange proved “a fundamental lack of equity and fairness” in the nominations process.

Junior Democratic Senators have been particularly outspoken on the issue in recent months. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is leading a crusade to stop the use of secret holds, will continue that campaign in the coming weeks. McCaskill has 63 signatures on her petition, but is four shy of the number needed to change a Senate standing rule on the secret or “anonymous” hold practice.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Kagan are closing in, with the Judiciary Committee looking to begin them June 28. And with both Republican and Democratic base voters concerned about the makeup of the courts, Kagan’s hearings will likely provide a platform for a broader fight over the judiciary.

Republicans are poring over thousands of pages of documents released Friday by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library to find any damning information on Kagan’s record. Republicans will rely on those documents as they prepare for Kagan’s hearings, one that will showcase broader GOP arguments that the Obama administration is trying to push the courts too far to the left.

Democrats such as Leahy, meanwhile, will try to turn the tables on Republicans, arguing that Kagan can act as a balance to conservative members of the high court.