President Obama blasted Senate Republicans Wednesday for using “holds,” a Senate tactic that delays consideration of nominees - even though as a senator he used the technique to block several of President George W. Bush’s appointments.
A year into his tenure, Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats in the Senate lashed out this week at the long months some nominees have waited to be confirmed by the Senate, saying it’s part of their effort to force Republicans to move beyond obstruction and help govern.
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 single senator is trying to force the administration’s hand on an issue. He said that’s the case with Martha Johnson, his nominee to head the General Services Administration.
“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.
But that’s exactly what Mr. Obama did in two instances when, as a senator, he blocked all Environmental Protection Agency nominees in late 2005 to try to force release of new rules on lead paint and, a year later, blocked a Federal Aviation Administration nominee to try to force the FAA to decide whether Midwest wind farms would interfere with radar.
In 2007, Mr. Obama also put a hold on Hans A. von Spakovsky, whom Mr. Bush had nominated to serve on the Federal Election Commission. 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 that was funny because federal courts had upheld voter-identification laws in Georgia and Indiana.
“He’s 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.
In the Senate, a hold on a nominee is a lawmaker’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.
Faced with that prospect, Democrats are attempting to draw political blood over some of Republicans’ holds.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republicans are endangering the country by delaying nominees at the State and Homeland Security departments.
“For political reasons, a handful of Republican senators are standing between these experts and their offices. And that means they are also standing between the American people and their security,” Mr. Reid said.
Nominations can be a political hot potato. In 2002 and 2004, Republican senators said Democrats’ filibusters of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees were a rallying cry that helped them boost conservative turnout. One senator estimated the judicial nominations issue was worth a couple of percentage points of support in close races.
The Senate is slated to vote on two of those long-stalled nominees on Thursday: Patricia Smith, whom Mr. Obama nominated to be solicitor at the Labor Department and who was approved by a committee on Oct. 7, and Ms. Johnson, the GSA pick, who was approved by a committee on June 8.
In his remarks to Senate Democrats, Mr. Obama specifically called out Republicans’ leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, saying he’ll talk with the Kentucky Republican about ways to overcome holds.
But McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said the president’s encouragement would be better directed at Democrats.
“We don’t schedule the votes on the floor. The majority schedules the votes on the floor,” Mr. Stewart said. “They chose to have this vote now, rather than six months ago.”
When the White House was asked about Mr. Obama’s own history of holds, spokesman Bill Burton didn’t respond directly, instead repeating the president’s call for action.
“What I’m saying is that people are holding up nominees who are actually really popular and that the United States Senate would support, given the opportunity. And we need a full team in order to take on the things that we’ve got going here,” Mr. Burton said.