Holding firm, or a crass hold-up?

    Democrats on Capitol Hill are howling about Republicans trying to deep-six Obama nominees through various delaying actions.
    But as, Chris Satullo points out in this week’s Centre Square essay, not all nominees are created equal. [audio: satullo20100425.mp3]

    I don’t know whether Muzak gets played on the elevators reserved for members of the U.S. Senate.

    If it is, might I suggest a song selection? Cue in Smokey Robinson’s classic “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.”

    Because that’s the story of the week in the Senate. Republican senators have put secret holds on about 100 of President Obama’s nominees for various posts.

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    What’s a secret hold? Well, one of the Senate’s many odd rules is that any senator may, without being identified, without stating any reason, delay all action on a nomination.

    Let’s be clear. Senators on both sides of the aisle have played this holding game over the years.

    But also be clear that right now the Senate’s GOP minority is issuing secret holds with a promiscuous abandon rarely before seen.

    The jobs going unfilled tend be those like undersecretary of this, commissioner of that. In other words, the jobs where a lot of the day-to-day decision making of government happens.

    And that, of course, is the point: Senate Republicans don’t want the Obama administration to get its work done, because they don’t agree with it.

    This strikes me as very bad form. But to dig into why, it’s important to make a crucial distinction, often missed.

    News stories about nominees in limbo often lump executive jobs in with federal judgeships.

    They should not be. The two situations are different.

    Political nominees serve at the pleasure of the president. My view has always been that presidents, even ones whose agendas I really dislike, deserve a chance to appoint their own team. The only exceptions would be people shown to have a shocking lack of credentials, or major blemishes on their records

    Judges are different. They get a lifetime gig, which might last long after the president who appointed them is in the grave. Their job is not to execute a passing political agenda, but to interpret an enduring Constitution.

    So presidents are not entitled to the same leeway to pack the courts with the like-minded. I may not agree with the legal views that lead Republicans to fight Obama’s court nominees, but I can’t deny their right to do so.

    Anonymous holds on political appointees, by contrast, are deplorable. When you lose an election, you shouldn’t be allowed to overturn the result through cynical parliamentary games.

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