Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GOP Obstructionism in the Senate

Today Senate Republicans blocked their first Obama Administration nominee. David Hayes, the nominee for Interior deputy secretary, would have been easily confirmed had it not been for a failed cloture vote.

The vote for cloture was 57-39 - just three votes short.

It all began when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar put an oil-and-lease sale in Utah on hold. That sparked Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) to call for an opposition to incoming Interior Department nominees.

It seems like a strange move for all but two GOP Senators - John Kyle and Olympia Snowe - to rally behind Bennett for his local constituency in a partisan effort to filibuster a non-political civil servant such as Hayes. Especially for the Interior Department. But that’s exactly what they did.

What’s really incredible is that Bennett said that Hayes was qualified for the position and "I want to do everything I can to get Hayes confirmed as rapidly as possible."

Now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’ll wait until Al Franken is seated - if he needs to - in order to confirm Hayes. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin pledged to bring the Hayes confirmation back to a vote on Monday.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) told reporters today "What we have today is a classic hostage-taking," while Salazar said in a press statement:

"This was a tired vote of bitter obstructionism … It may be uncomfortable for some to watch us have to clean up mess after mess -- from corruption to lawbreaking -- that is the previous administration's legacy at Interior, but to cast a vote against such a qualified and fine person is the height of cynicism."

While Salazar stood by the decision to hold-up the lease, he told Bennett in a letter yesterday that he would instruct Hayes (once nominated) to go to Utah and review the situation.

Beyond this, the confirmation process of Obama nominees has been the slowest for any President in ages. The last time it was comparatively slow was in 1981, where (by this point in the year) Democrats in the Senate had confirmed 125 Reagan nominees. This year the GOP has only confirmed 104 of Obama’s.

But why are Senate Republicans doing this?

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined the opposition to Hayes because of her disagreements with the Obama Administration on enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.

But that only accounts for one GOP Senator, and it really isn’t a good answer.

The truth is that this could serve as a huge setback to the GOP. If this story gets the attention it deserves it would make the Republican Party seem as hyper-partisan as ever.

If we were Senate Republicans, we would use the upcoming Supreme Court nomination to replace Justice David Souter as an opportunity to save what grace the GOP has left with the voters.

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