Shelby places blanket hold on Obama nominees

Senator Richard Shelby has placed a rare “blanket hold” on all nominations from Barack Obama, according to reports from both The Hill and Talking Points Memo.  Until he lifts the hold, none of these nominations can proceed to a floor vote for confirmation.  While some may initially believe this to be a good strategy for fighting what have appeared to be selections of hard-Left appointments, a spokesman for Shelby makes clear that the Senator is most interested in protecting pork (h/t HA reader Patrick):

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) on Thursday placed a blanket hold on all of President Barack Obama’s nominees before the Senate, according to his spokesman.

Shelby’s holds mean that the Senate cannot vote on a nominee unless the hold is broken using a cloture vote that requires 60 senators or if the senator lifts the hold. …

The Defense department “must recognize” that the tanker deal “needs to be significantly and substantively changed,” Shelby spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said in a statement. …

Shelby is also not happy with the Obama administration’s decision to hold back funding for an FBI facility in Alabama dedicated to research on explosives used by terrorists.

“If this administration were as worried about hunting down terrorists as it is about the confirmation of low-level political nominations, America would be a safer place,” Graffeo said.

The tanker deal refers to the aborted bid process for the refueling tankers that had initially gone to Northrop Grumman, which would have assembled the planes in Alabama.  The GAO ruled in June 2008 that the Pentagon had unfairly burdened Boeing in favor of Northrop and pressured the Air Force into starting the bid process over again.  That dispute had little to do with the Obama administration, and the same leadership at the Pentagon was in place at the time of the GAO decision.  It makes little sense to obstruct Obama for a decision made in the Bush administration.

Shelby may have more of a point about the FBI funding, but it’s not clear from either report that Obama has stopped the research or just moved it to another FBI facility outside of Alabama.  Since Shelby’s office made it a secondary issue to the tanker bid, one has to assume that Shelby’s a lot more concerned about the location than about national security research.  If Obama stopped the research altogether, that should have been the Senator’s highest priority.

The hold process is perfectly legitimate in stopping a bad candidate from immediate confirmation.  It isn’t at all legitimate to hold up every single appointment to demand more pork for one’s state, or favorable bid decisions, or any other gimme impulse.  Regardless of who is President, the elected executive is entitled to appoint people who want to implement his policies, and the Senate should usually give the nominees the courtesy of a floor vote, especially on political posts within the executive branch, with the noted exceptions for questions of incompetence, inexperience, or corruption.  Otherwise, a hold should focus on a specific policy point associated with the nomination or on a critical issue of national security.

Let’s not forget that we have criticized Obama for being so slow to fill these positions.  We can hardly complain about that while Republicans obstruct those appointments to gain more leverage on pork.  And once again, we see how pork-barrel politics winds up distorting the political process and making government less efficient.