So says Politico, which notes the competing pressures that were apparent from the moment Eric Holder announced his departure two weeks ago. Republicans would love to have Barack Obama name a replacement so that they can beat up Democratic incumbents and challengers in Senate race. He could hold off until after the election, but waiting that long may mean getting confirmation from a GOP-controlled Senate.
What’s a President with cratering approval numbers to do? What he always does … punt:
The White House is seriously considering waiting until after Election Day to announce a replacement for Attorney General Eric Holder in order to avoid creating a new political problem for vulnerable Senate Democrats.
But that may make an already difficult job of getting someone confirmed by the end of the year more challenging, creating a tense, time-compressed showdown with Republicans during the lame duck or waiting until the Democratic majority in the Senate has thinned, if not been lost. …
But the White House pushing a nomination in the lame duck is still very much under consideration in the West Wing, with the president and his aides reflecting true indecision as they weigh various factors. For all the reasons to hold back, they also see several potential advantages to moving forward more quickly.
As I noted at the time of the departure, it’s not as if Holder’s resignation took Obama by surprise. Holder has talked about getting out for at least two years, and reportedly had to be talked into sticking around after the 2012 election. A recent health scare made it even more obvious that Holder would be going sooner rather than later. And yet, not only did the White House fail to choose a successor, they didn’t even bother to prepare for the obvious:
The White House has had plenty of time to think about it. Over a month ago, President Barack Obama was informed by Holder of his final decision to leave, and he was long expected to depart by the end of the year. And most of the internal speculation has been focused on an effective short list of three — former White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Solicitor General Don Verrilli — for over a week.
“They’re just not going to do this as quickly as people want,” one former Justice Department official said. “They’ve known this was coming for over a year.”
And Democrats wonder why voters have lost confidence in Obama’s abilities as an executive.
Ruemmler is probably not going to be a good option now for Obama, especially before the election, not with the Washington Post’s exposé on Cartagena still rippling through the media. The confirmation hearings would be dreadful for Ruemmler, given her “investigation” of Jonathan Dach, which consisted of asking him twice whether he did anything wrong. Given that ten Secret Service agents got punished for that scandal, even some Democrats might be tempted to push Ruemmler on the value of self-investigations and what that says about the person nominated to the top law-enforcement post in the nation.
But even apart from the confirmation hearings, just imagine what would happen if Ruemmler got the nod before the election. What if Alison Lundergan Grimes, for example, was asked whether she’d vote to approve Ruemmler, who’s connected not just to the Cartagena cover-up but to the IRS scandal as well? That might make her response to the question about voting for Obama look concise and honest.
Tom Perez is now Labor Secretary, and might get a slightly easier ride having already been confirmed by the Senate for that position, but his record under Holder would make him a big target for Republicans to hit in Senate races, too. Verrilli would probably the safest option and the easiest Senate ride, but might get Obama in trouble with women and minority voters. Plus, while Verrilli has served relatively quietly as Solicitor General, he hasn’t exactly wowed with his performance at the Supreme Court over the last few years. Verrilli just wrapped up a rather horrible summer at the Supreme Court, having lost on Hobby Lobby, recess appointments, and labor law.
Small wonder that Obama can’t quite decide which bad option is the least worst. If it hadn’t already been established as a pattern, and had Holder’s departure hadn’t been foreseeable by everyone else for two years, the indecision and punting might be understandable. As it is, though, this just confirms the pattern and reflects badly on Obama’s ability to run even the top levels of an organization, let alone the whole federal government.