Sen. George LeMieux's mastery of an obscure legislative maneuver suggests he is a quick study. It's too bad he appears to be using it for personal and partisan political gain.
A Sunday St. Petersburg Times story detailed the latest example of LeMieux's use of a Senate "hold." LeMieux is the one senator standing in the way of a floor vote on President Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador to Brazil, the United States' best ally in Latin America and an important business partner. The move has drawn the ire of the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and threatens a $7.5 billion bid to build military planes by Seattle-based Boeing Co.
LeMieux's hold has nothing to do with Brazil. It appears to be about scoring political points with a vocal Republican constituency upset about the Obama administration's relaxing of relations with Cuba and the role the president's nominee played in that. It's the second time LeMieux has used a hold to affect anti-Castro interests. He earlier blocked funding cuts to the ineffective Radio Marti.
LeMieux — who opened a political action committee last week that suggests a future run for office — isn't just currying favor with a group that gives generously to political campaigns. His moves help his political benefactor and former boss, Gov. Charlie Crist. The governor faces a Cuban-American, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, in the 2010 Republican primary for the Senate seat LeMieux is keeping warm.
Obama's nominee for ambassador to Brazil, Thomas A. Shannon Jr., is a longtime diplomat who became assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric affairs under President George W. Bush. It was in that job this summer that Shannon helped broker the Organization of American States' decision to drop its 47-year-old ban on Cuba membership. But Shannon also helped ensure that before admission new members would have to practice OAS's democratic ideals of multiparty democratic government, human rights and freedom of the press. No one expects Cuba to pass that test anytime soon.
But LeMieux isn't big on nuance. He prefers the blunt instrument of partisan politics to the finesse of bipartisan compromise. He intended to vote against taking up health care reform in the Senate. And earlier he claimed an independent federal panel's new mammogram guidelines were the Democratic-led government's first attempt to force "rationing" — ignoring that the guidelines were based on new research reviewed by a panel of doctors and scientists who were all appointed when Bush was president.
LeMieux was given a rare opportunity. Without having to pander to special interests or raise a single campaign dollar, he entered the Senate when Crist appointed him to fill the vacancy left by Mel Martinez, who resigned. And he won't be staying long. Yet rather than use this freedom to make hard decisions, he appears more interested in laying the groundwork for a future political campaign. Florida voters should remember that when he needs their support — and not just support from his old boss — to win his next job.