GOP Senate Obstructionists Trying to Reverse 2008 Election

According to People for the American Way, dozens of Barack Obama's nominees -- many in key positions -- are still waiting to get started as Republicans threaten to filibuster their confirmation and the White House and senate leadership seem (inexplicably) cautious about using their 60-vote majority to ram them through. It's largely flown under the radar.


In 1949, a change to Senate rules allowed members to filibuster executive branch nominees. Senators tend to believe (or at least to say) that, within bounds of decency, the White House deserves to be able to staff the executive branch as it chooses; and in the 60 years since then, the practice has been used sparingly.

Until Barack Obama came to town.

"Between 1949 and 2009 there were 24 nominees on which cloture was forced," Baker said. "In just the first 9 months of the Obama administration, there have been five such votes."

Despite a record of rather extreme appointments, there were 7 cloture votes during the 8 years of the Bush administration. Of the 29 times such votes have occurred in American history, 20 have been over Democratic nominees and 9 over Republicans. Not surprisingly, before Obama took office, over half of all cloture votes of executive branch appointees had occurred during the Clinton administration -- 13.

Bubba holds the record, but Obama is on pace to shatter it with cloture votes on 28 nominees, more than all other administrations since 1949 combined.

I would just point out how ridiculous this makes the whole wing-nut kerfuffle about Obama's "communist" and unaccountable "czars" -- the officials he is supposedly slipping in around the senate confirmation process. Not that it wasn't already ridiculous -- George W. Bush appointed more czars than Obama, and several of those Fox News and others have attacked as unconfirmed czars (8 out of 30) were actually customary positions filled by people who were in fact duly approved by Congress. But the hypocrisy of leveling the charge while dozens of Obama's appointees still await confirmation 9 months into his term in office is mind-jangling.

Finally, let me just add that People for the American Way is especially interested in one nominee whose block by Republicans has been particularly galling: Dawn Johnsen, Obama's pick to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Council. OLC advises the executive branch on the law, and during the Bush administration it was packed with right-wing ideologues with an expansive view of executive power (to say the least). It's where  people like "torture memo" authors Jay Bybee and John Yoo basically told the White House it could do anything it wanted as long as they said it had something to do with terrorism.

Johnsen's eminently qualified -- she served as acting head of OLC during the Clinton years, she's been endorsed by former heads of the OLC under both Republican and Democratic administrations; her Republican senator, Dick Lugar, has endorsed her.

The problem for the GOP -- aside from their instinctive desire to play petty games with Obama's nominees -- is that she's really good.  As The New York Times reported, her appointment to head the OLC after the Bybees and Yoos brought it so much well earned infamy represents the kind of change Obama promised but has so far failed to deliver in many other areas:

Ms. Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University, was an unsparing critic of memorandums, written by lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush administration, that said the president could largely ignore international treaties and Congress in fighting terrorists and that critics have portrayed as allowing torture in interrogation.

The broad reading of presidential authority was “outlandish,” and the constitutional arguments were “shockingly flawed,” Ms. Johnsen has written. While her language was harsh, the memos have largely been withdrawn, and among lawyers a consensus agreeing with her views has emerged.

Nonetheless, Republicans have denounced her comments.

If you'd like to see Dawn Johnsen's nomination get an up or down vote, sign PFAW's petition here.


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