Conservatives in the U.S. Senate have refused to allow a confirmation vote for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
For six years.
They did it to President George W. Bush, refusing to allow a vote on nominee Michael Sullivan. They are doing it to President Obama as well. Their stance has nothing to do with the quality of those nominated — both Sullivan and Todd Jones, Obama’s nominee, were very well qualified. It is instead an effort to cripple the operations of an agency that the gun industry finds annoying.
Again, the Senate is not rejecting the nominees. Using Senate rules, conservative members are refusing to even allow a vote to take place, because they know they would lose it.
For the past 18 months, Republicans have also refused to allow a vote on the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, created by Congress in the wake of the Wall Street collapse. Initially, Obama intended to appoint Elizabeth Warren to the post, but backed down from the controversial appointment when GOP senators made it clear she would not be confirmed. Obama instead nominated Cordray, who as Ohio attorney general had led successful lawsuits to rein in banking-industry excesses, but the gesture got him nowhere.
Still no vote.
Led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans are refusing to even confirmation of a permanent CFPB director unless the agency is first gutted of its independence and authority to monitor the mortage, credit-card and student loan industries on behalf of consumers.
It doesn’t matter that the GOP lacks the votes to force such a major change, just as it lacked the votes to implement when the agency was created. It is using the confirmation process to undercut the agency through extra-constitutional means.
The story is repeated yet again with the the National Labor Relations Board. By refusing to allow even a vote on confirmation of NLRB nominees, Republicans have reduced the five-member to just one member, and without a quorum the board cannot function. When President Obama attempted to get the agency operational by making recess appointments to the board, he was blocked at least temporarily by a federal appeals court.
While the BATF, NLRB and CFPB are important government agencies, their functions are relatively narrow. However, the tactics being used to neuter those agencies are now being implemented to block far more important nominations.
Over the weekend, Republican senators announced they would block votes on the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense and John Brennan as CIA director. Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, said that he would put a “hold” on both nomination until he gets answers to questions about Benghazi.
Those jobs cut to the core of national security. They should not be left vacant as a consequence of petty personal feuds.
A group of 25 Republican senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, is insisting that Hagel prove that none of the eight private companies where he served on the board of directors — several of them private equity and investment firms — ever received what the senators call “foreign funding.” The apparent implication is that Hagel, a Vietnam War hero, a longtime Republican senator from Nebraska and a member of both the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, has been bought off by other countries.
No other defense nominee has ever been asked to disprove such claims. And as Hagel points out, the companies in question are private firms and he has no right or authority to ask them to disclose such sensitive business information in response to a partisan fishing expedition.
To hide the absence of actual fire in the effort to block Hagel and Brennan, the right-wing conspiracy machine has begun to generate a lot of smoke. For example, did you know that Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran and deputy national security advisor, is not only a Muslim sympathizer, he is a secret convert to a fundamentalist Islam sect?
And did you know that according to the crackerjack reporters at Breitbart, who in turn quote “Senate sources,” Hagel has taken money from a front group calling itself “Friends of Hamas”?
Let me suggest that if “Senate sources” actually possessed such information, they would not be leaking it to an outlet with the reputation of Breitbart, but instead would be plastering it across every cable news outlet and newspaper in the country.
Under the Constitution, the Senate is given clear authority to either confirm or reject presidential nominees. But time after time, and for increasingly flimsy and indefensible causes, the Senate is refusing to do either. The practice represents not just an abuse of the Senate rules, but an abuse of the Constitution itself.
Applying such cheap partisan tactics to nominations that are critical to national security represents yet another new low for those in Congress.