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Eye Opener: Ahead of votes, Obama blasts Senate confirmation process

By Ed O'Keefe

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asks President Obama a question during the Senate Democratic Policy Committee Issues Conference at the Newseum on Wednesday. (Ron Sachs/Getty)

Eye Opener

Happy Thursday! The Senate votes today on the nominations of M. Patricia Smith to serve as the Labor Department’s top lawyer and Martha N. Johnson to lead the General Services Administration. Other confirmation votes could occur on Thursday or next week, Senate aides said.

The votes come a day after President Obama criticized a legislative tactic he once practiced himself, saying that Republicans were delaying confirmation votes on several of his nominees for reasons unrelated to their qualifications.

“We’ve got a huge backlog of folks who are unanimously viewed as well qualified, nobody has a specific objection to them, but end up having a hold on them because of some completely unrelated piece of business,” Obama said at a question and answer session during the Senate Democratic Conference at the Newseum in Washington.

Senate rules allow members to place a hold on nominees -- to block their consideration by the chamber -- at any time for any reason. Such holds are often placed anonymously, making it exceedingly difficult for those outside the Senate to track their use. But news reports indicate that Obama, as a senator from Illinois, placed holds on at least three Bush administration nominees amid policy disagreements or concerns about their qualifications.

On Wednesday the president singled out Johnson for attention. She has waited since June for a full Senate vote.

“I don’t have a GSA administrator, even though I nominated somebody who was well qualified several months ago, and nobody can tell me that there’s anything particularly wrong with her,” Obama said. “They’re blocking her because of some unrelated matter.”

Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) placed a hold on Johnson’s nomination in July as he sought information from GSA about plans to build a new federal building in Kansas City, a long standing issue of concern of Missouri’s entire Congressional delegation.

“The senator is far more concerned about the 1,000 federal employees in Kansas City being held hostage than someone who wants a D.C. job,” said Bond spokeswoman Shana Marchio. “The president’s comments show a real lack of understanding of how bureaucrats in Washington have been jerking around the people of Kansas City for the last five years and as we know now, have kept federal employees working in a potentially hazardous facility that even GSA agrees needs to replaced.”

The agency has committed to building a new building in downtown Kansas City and is working with Bond to complete the process, a GSA spokeswoman said.

In 2005, a year after his election, Obama placed a hold on Susan Bodine to lead the Environmental Protection Agency office that oversees Superfund and emergency cleanup programs because the agency had missed a deadline on new regulations for lead paint exposure. In September 2006 Obama and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) blocked Robert L. Wilkie's nomination to serve as the Defense Department's assistant secretary for legislative affairs over a long-delayed Pentagon report on Midwestern wind farms. He joined with other Democratic senators in October 2007 to block the nomination of former Justice Department lawyer Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission.

Von Spakovsky withdrew from consideration in 2008 while Wilkie and Bodine were eventually confirmed.

By the end of 2009, the White House had just under 60 percent of its top 500 nominees confirmed, a figure that lags slightly behind President George W. Bush's after his first year in office, according to The Washington Post's Head Count.

"The President respects the right of senators to express concern about the qualifications or suitability of a nominee, but there is an unacceptable pattern of Republicans using parliamentary moves to anonymously block non-controversial nominees, frequently for reasons unrelated to the nominee or the agency, in order to slow down progress on important issues," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | February 4, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Congress, Eye Opener, Revolving Door  
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Confirmation process:

60% of the top 500 nominees for Bush and Obama after 1 year. It should not be that hard to put nominees into government jobs to do some work. It's a wonder anything gets done in this government.

Posted by: randers001104 | February 4, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

The next time someone says the government doesn't work or doesn't work well ask your [Republican] Senator or Representative. Find out how many nominees have yet to have a hearing or a vote. Ask your [Republican] Senator or Representative which court benches are vacant and why.

Government doesn't work for anyone if their isn't government workers.

Posted by: BigTrees | February 4, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I think it is not right to block a nominee for an unrelated cause. If the nominee is qualified for the position and does not have controversial issues, congress should vote. This is one of the reasons why people are annoyed with the government and its policies.

Posted by: hround | February 4, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

The next time someone says the government doesn't work or doesn't work well ask your [Republican] Senator or Representative. Find out how many nominees have yet to have a hearing or a vote. Ask your [Republican] Senator or Representative which court benches are vacant and why.

Government doesn't work for anyone if their isn't government workers.

Posted by: BigTrees | February 4, 2010 9:15 AM
If you read the entire article then you saw that obama also did this while he was a (demoratic) senator.
What goes around comes around.

Posted by: tjmlrc | February 4, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Obama needs to stop the whinning! He had a majority until last week. Ground the jet and maybe, even with his total lack of experience, he might actually accomplish something- anything!!

Posted by: CayC | February 6, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

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