Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

How blocking Cabinet nominees became common practice

WASHINGTON — Over the past few weeks three different senators have put the nominations of three picks by President Barack Obama — the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Interior Department and Labor Department — in jeopardy.

In none of these instances — CIA director John Brennan, Interior Secretary-designate Sally Jewell and Labor Secretary-designate Thomas Perez — did the senators suggest the president's nominees were unqualified. And in the case of Jewell, Sen. Lisa Murkowski's objection had nothing to do with the nominee herself. So the question is, why has it become so common for senators to throw up roadblocks in the confirmation process?

The answer: because Washington has become so dysfunctional, threatening a high-profile nomination has become one of the best ways senators can now achieve their normal policy objectives.

Scott Segal, head of the policy resolution group at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, puts it this way: "Confirmations mark one of the few times that the president can be vulnerable to congressional pressure."

"The opportunities for senators to address important issues back home are more limited than ever," Segal added. "Targeted legislation and spending limitations are difficult to pass in a polarized Congress. So confirmation battles provide one of the few mechanisms for senators to leverage their support to focus executive branch attention on particular home-state concerns."

Take the example of Jewell, whose nomination finally cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a 19 to 3 vote on Friday. Murkowski, R-Alaska, held up her nomination in an effort to pressure the outgoing interior secretary, Ken Salazar, to approve a road through a wilderness area in rural Alaska. The Fish and Wildlife Service determined last month that putting a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge would threaten one of the world's most ecologically important wetlands. But Murkowski wants the road to allow the 792 residents of the remote village of King Cove easier access to an all-weather airport in the case of medical emergencies.

On Thursday, Salazar issued a memo pledging to dispatch one of his department's top officials journey to Alaska to investigate whether the road was needed, and issue a report on the matter before Interior finalizes a decision on the subject.

While it remains unclear whether Murkowski will ultimately prevail in her effort to push through a road the Interior Department has resisted for decades, environmentalists described the agreement as a dangerous concession by the Obama administration.

Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark, who headed the Fish and Wildlife Service under President Bill Clinton, said Friday she was "troubled and dismayed that the Obama administration is playing politics with this issue."

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., took the unusual step of waging a filibuster against Brennan to highlight his concerns about the possible use of drone strikes against U.S. citizens on American soil without a trial.

Attorney General Eric Holder's response to Paul's protest didn't break new ground. He wrote in a letter that the administration had no intention of ever using such force but that "in an extraordinary circumstance," such as the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it would be "necessary and appropriate" for the president to order military action inside the United States.

But it made Paul into a hero among conservatives, raised his national profile, and put the administration on notice that it needed to reevaluate how it conducted its drone operations.

At this moment, Perez is the one remaining second-term nominee whose confirmation is still being held hostage by the Senate. The day Obama nominated Perez, who has headed the Justice Department's civil rights division, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said he would place a hold on it because Perez enforced Louisiana's voting rights laws in a way "that specifically benefits the politics of the president and his administration at the expense of identity security" of the state's registered voters. Vitter noted he is still awaiting a reply from the Justice Department in connection to a letter he wrote on the subject in 2011, and would not release his hold until he received an answer.

It remains unclear how serious a problem this will be for Perez, who has also come under attack from other GOP senators. But Segal — who often makes common cause with Republicans in his efforts to defend coal-fired power plants — said there are limits to using the confirmation process to extract concessions from the White House.

"Of course," he noted, "senators must keep their objectives reasonable and at least somewhat germane to the appointment subject to confirmation or they risk losing credibility."

How blocking Cabinet nominees became common practice 03/25/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 7:53am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  2. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Those wide-open, end-to-end, shoot-at-will games are a lot of fun to watch, especially when those shots are going in the net. But if the players had their druthers, they would rather have a more controlled pace, one with which they can dictate the action.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  4. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)

    Nation

    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  5. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.