Wednesday, February 3, 2010

President Obama on Wednesday blasted Senate Republicans for using “holds,” a tactic that delays considering nominees — even though as a senator he used the technique to block several of President George W. Bush’s appointments.

Speaking to Senate Democrats at their annual retreat, Mr. Obama complained that Republican objections have created “a huge backlog of folks who are unanimously viewed as well qualified” but who get held up because a senator is trying to force the administration’s hand on an issue.

As an example, Mr. Obama said his nominee to head the General Services Administration, Martha Johnson, is being held up over issues unrelated to GSA’s business of running federal buildings.

“Let’s have a fight about real stuff. Don’t hold this woman hostage. If you have an objection about my health-care policies, then let’s debate the health-care policies. But don’t suddenly end up having a GSA administrator who is stuck in limbo somewhere because you don’t like something else that we’re doing,” he said.

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In the Senate, a hold on a nominee is a senator’s way of saying he or she would object to bringing the nominee to the floor for a vote. If the majority leader insists on bringing the nominee to the floor anyway, a hold can develop into a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome.

The process is so time-consuming that holds are often respected out of necessity. It is often not known which lawmaker placed the hold on a given nominee.

Mr. Obama made use of that power when he was in the Senate. He was one of several senators in 2007 to put a hold on Hans A. von Spakovsky, whom Mr. Bush nominated to serve on the Federal Election Commission.

And, according to news reports, Mr. Obama in late 2005 also put a hold on all Environmental Protection Agency nominees. Mr. Obama said he was trying to force the EPA to move more quickly to issue rules on lead-paint exposure.

Susan P. Bodine, a nominee to be an assistant administrator at EPA, was one of those caught in that blanket hold, though she said Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, also placed a hold on her nomination specifically.

Ms. Bodine said Mrs. Boxer was seeking “extensive amounts of documents” in exchange for letting her nomination go forward.

“It had nothing to do with me. It was leveraged to get documents out of the agency,” Ms. Bodine said.

As for the 2007 hold on the FEC nominee, Mr. Obama disagreed with Mr. von Spakovsky’s support for allowing states to impose voter-identification requirements at the polls.

Mr. von Spakovsky, who is now senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the standoff was funny because federal courts had upheld voter-identification laws in both Georgia and Indiana.

The president “is the last person that should be complaining about holds being put on nominees because of the hold he put on me, which he had no reason to put on me other than pure politics,” Mr. von Spakovsky said.

Mr. Obama, in his comments Wednesday, acknowledged Democrats also used holds, but said, “I think it’s fair to say we were a little more selective in how we did it.”

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