Landrieu’s Hold Turns Into Standoff With Fellow Democrats

Posted October 5, 2010 at 6:38pm

Sen. Mary Landrieu has carefully honed the art of using a hold on legislation or a nominee as a bargaining tactic, but the Louisianan has come up short in her most recent attempt and has even drawn the ire of her fellow Democrats.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has called her hold on the nomination of Jacob Lew to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget “outrageous,” and other Democrats have privately grumbled that Landrieu is unfairly stalling a noncontroversial nomination.

But Landrieu has persisted with the hold to try to pressure President Barack Obama into lifting a six-month moratorium on deep-water oil drilling, which he imposed last spring in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The moratorium is set to expire Nov. 30.

“I want to work in the next five or six weeks to lift my hold, but they’re going to have to deliver something significant in this area,” Landrieu said in an interview last week with WWL, a Louisiana radio station. “They have got to understand eventually how devastating this moratorium is.”

The outspoken lawmaker has made similar pleas in the past. In 2006, Landrieu threatened to hold up scores of President George W. Bush’s executive nominations unless he sent additional funds to Louisiana to rebuild levees damaged by Hurricane Katrina. She similarly blocked the confirmation of Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp to head the Army Corps of Engineers in 2007 unless he visited her Gulf Coast state. Landrieu dropped her hold once he made the trip.

Landrieu has classified her hold on Lew as an effort of last resort. “It’s unusual but effective,” she told WWL. “The president isn’t happy about it, but I’ve got his attention.”

She held hearings and penned letters to White House officials blasting the moratorium, then announced her hold the week before the Senate adjourned for the pre-election break. Conversations with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Michael Bromwich, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Obama all failed to persuade Landrieu to budge.

A Democratic aide suggested that Landrieu’s hold actually provided some relief for Democrats because Republicans were preparing to use Lew’s nomination as a proxy for Obama’s economic record, which could have been damaging to the majority party so close to the midterm elections.

“She unwittingly avoided what would have been an ugly debate for Democrats,” a GOP aide said.

But Landrieu has also made the debate about economics by repeatedly saying that the moratorium hurts her state and that Lew, if confirmed, would be an instrumental player in assisting Louisiana’s recovery.

“Very qualified guy, terrific guy, we need a budget director no doubt,” Landrieu told WWL, adding, “They have got to understand eventually how devastating this moratorium is.”