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“We’re Going Home For Christmas”: GOP-Led Senate Failing At Its Most Basic Tasks

In light of the recent focus on counter-terrorism and national security, common sense suggests the Senate would want to quickly confirm Adam Szubin to serve as the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes.

As the Huffington Post recently reported, we’re talking about a job that “involves tracking terrorists to prevent them from raising money on the black market and elsewhere.” Szubin is extremely well qualified; he’s worked on blocking terrorist financing in previous administrations; and he enjoys broad, bipartisan support in the Senate.

And yet, the Senate isn’t voting on his nomination. Politico reported overnight that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has grown impatient with mindless Republican obstructionism and tried to end this farce yesterday.

A frustrated Brown took to the Senate floor Wednesday to force a confirmation vote on Szubin and a host of other nominees stuck in his committee. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, swiftly objected to each of Brown’s attempts.

“That’s a policy decision,” Shelby said Wednesday of the nomination of Szubin, whom Shelby called “eminently qualified” during his confirmation hearing in September. “You know, he’s probably a nice guy in all this. But there is a lot of dissent in our caucus on that.”

Asked whether Szubin could move through his committee soon, Shelby responded: “We’re not going to vote now. We’re going home for Christmas.”

It’s not altogether clear what in the world Shelby was talking about. When he says Szubin is “probably a nice guy in all this,” it’s unclear what “this” refers to. When the senator added there’s “dissent in our caucus on that,” he didn’t say what “that” meant.

But even if we look past the ambiguity, the end result is the same: an uncontroversial, perfectly qualified counter-terrorism nominee is being delayed – without explanation – apparently because Republicans don’t like President Obama.

And while that may seem ridiculous – because it is – it’s important to understand that Szubin is hardly the only one.

The same Politico report explained, “Nineteen potential judges, a half-dozen ambassadors, a terrorism financing specialist and two high-ranking State Department nominees are awaiting confirmation votes on the Senate floor, a backlog that has this GOP-led Senate on track for the lowest number of confirmations in 30 years. The Senate Banking Committee hasn’t moved on a single nominee all year.”

The Banking Committee, by the way, is led by Alabama’s Richard Shelby – the one who’s praised Adam Szubin, but who also refuses to let the Senate confirm Adam Szubin.

The story on judicial nominees is every bit as exasperating. The Huffington Post reported this week on Luis Felipe Restrepo, who, for reasons no one can defend, has “endured nearly every type of Senate delay a judicial nominee could endure.”

The Senate should be voting Monday to confirm Restrepo to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Senators typically vote on nominees in the order in which they were nominated, and Restrepo is first in line of any district or circuit court nominee. Instead, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) passed him over and teed up a vote on the next person in line, Travis McDonough, a Tennessee district court nominee.

Restrepo has been waiting his turn for a vote since he was nominated in November 2014. His nomination didn’t go anywhere last year, so President Barack Obama renominated him in January. Restrepo waited five months before he even got a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, thanks to his own state’s senator, Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), holding him up.

After his June hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) delayed the vote for another month, for no real reason. The committee finally voted to move Restrepo forward in July, unanimously, and he’s been waiting in line for a confirmation vote by the full Senate ever since.

The court seat Restrepo is supposed to fill has been vacant for nearly 900 days. No, that’s not a typo, and yes, it’s contributed to a “judicial emergency” on the 3rd Circuit, with a case backlog getting worse.

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein recently explained, “It’s a Senate engaged in pure partisan harassment of Obama, and indifferent to the smooth functioning of government.”

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was promoted to his current post, he promised Americans we’d see a new, different kind of chamber. Nearly a year later, I suppose he was correct – because the Senate is now far worse.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 10, 2015

December 11, 2015 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Mitch Mc Connell, Senate | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Please Proceed Senator”: Ted Cruz Wants To Fight Obama Over Immigration, But He Forgot About One Thing

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is calling for congressional Republicans to fight back against President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, saying they should refuse to confirm the president’s nominees until he reverses course.

“If the president announces executive amnesty, the new Senate majority leader who takes over in January should announce that the 114th Congress will not confirm a single nominee — executive or judicial — outside of vital national security positions, so long as the illegal amnesty persists,” Cruz wrote in a recent Politico Magazine op-ed.

There is obviously some political risk in Republicans pursuing such a strategy, given the presidential election in two years and a Senate landscape that looks more favorable for Democrats to regain control in that election.

But during an interview with Cruz on “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace pointed out another potential downside to blocking Obama’s nominations: Attorney General Eric Holder, a constant source of irritation for Republicans, would get to stay in his job longer. Holder announced in late September that he planned to retire, and earlier this month, Obama nominated Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, to take his place. Holder has stated that he will remain in his position until his successor’s nomination is confirmed by Congress.

“Are you saying that the Senate should refuse to confirm Loretta Lynch, the president’s new nominee for attorney general, and thereby leave Eric Holder, who you don’t like very much, in that position even longer?” asked Wallace.

Cruz largely avoided Wallace’s question, simply saying that Republicans “should use the constitutional checks and balances we have to rein in the executive.”

Wallace, however, persisted, and asked the question again. This time, Cruz still did not state directly that the Senate should block Lynch, but implied as much by saying that only positions of “vital national security” should get to the floor for a vote.

“In my view, the majority leader should decline to bring to the floor of the Senate any nomination other than vital national security positions,” the senator said. “Now, that is a serious and major step.”

In a prime-time address Thursday night, Obama announced that because Congress had failed to pass immigration reform, he would use his executive authority to bring deportation relief to 4 million or more undocumented immigrants.

The president’s executive action will protect undocumented parents whose children are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, as well as immigrants who came to America as children and others with long-standing ties to the country, from being deported.

Obama defended his actions in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC’s “This Week,” that aired Sunday morning. “The history is that I have issued fewer executive actions than most of my predecessors, by a long shot,” he said. “The difference is the response of Congress, and specifically the response of some of the Republicans.”

“But if you ask historians, take a look at the track records of the modern presidency, I’ve actually been very restrained, and I’ve been very restrained with respect to immigration,” Obama added. “I bent over backwards and will continue to do everything I can to get Congress to work because that’s my preference.”

 

By: Amanda Terkel, The Huffington Post, November 23, 2014

November 24, 2014 Posted by | Eric Holder, Immigration Reform, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A High Tech Filibuster”: Congressional Hazing Of Chuck Hagel Was A Waste Of Time

Chris Dodd was a new, young senator in 1982, when C. Everett Koop was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to serve as the nation’s surgeon general. A lot of liberals like then-Senator Dodd didn’t like Koop, who was anti-abortion, and saw him as the embodiment of the Moral Majority conservatism they despised. Dodd, who was then in the Senate barely a year, voted against Koop’s nomination. The surgeon general was approved by the Senate anyway, 60-24.

Dodd matured as a legislator, and Koop developed into a surgeon general Democrats had not expected him to be. Despite heavy pressure from social conservatives, Koop refused to declare that abortions performed by a qualified medical doctor were bad for a woman’s health. He was a leader in the battle against AIDS—a no-brainer now, but in the considerably more conservative ’80s, when it was seen as a gay man’s disease, something of a scandal. Koop, who died this week at 96, also was aggressive in the fight against tobacco use, particularly among children.

Koop may have forgotten Dodd’s vote against him. Dodd didn’t. Years after the confirmation, Dodd wrote a letter to Koop apologizing for his “no” vote. “He did a wonderful job as Surgeon General of the country, and I voted against him over issues that I didn’t really think through very carefully. And I regretted that,” Dodd told an NBC interviewer.

Fast-forward to this week, and the world of the U.S. Senate looks much different. Threats to hold up nominees for a slew of offices, from cabinet secretary to U.S. Marshall, are appallingly common. Sometimes the filibuster threat is a means to another end, a way to pressure Democrats or the Obama administration to give in on an unrelated topic. And sometimes the holdup hinges on an argument that is difficult to defend: The nominee isn’t who the minority party would have picked, so he or she can’t have the job. It’s remarkable that anyone in the Senate could presume to tell the president who he should hire to advise him, even when the paychecks come from public funds. It would be wrong for a Democratic senator to attempt to withhold funding, say, for the payroll of a GOP colleague who hired like-minded staffers to advise him or her. So why can’t President Obama pick his own cabinet, short of selecting someone corrupt or blatantly incompetent?

Chuck Hagel has been on both sides of the equation, serving in the U.S. Senate, where he had to vote on numerous nominations, and facing a battle to be confirmed as defense secretary. Hagel is a Republican, he won two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, and served two terms in the U.S. Senate. But he was nominated by Obama, which is enough to taint any nominee in the eyes of some Republicans. They grilled him in the Armed Services Committee, which was to be expected. Some questioned whether he was anti-Semitic, based on a cheap and pejorative interpretation of comments Hagel had made about a pro-Israel lobby. And one senator, Ted Cruz of Texas, had the audacity to suggest, with zero evidence, that Hagel had received income from North Korea.

Hagel went through a high-tech, waste-of-time hazing before he was finally confirmed Wednesday evening, 58-41. In coming years, will any senator write a note of apology to the new defense secretary?

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, February 27, 2013

February 28, 2013 Posted by | Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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