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March 05, 2009

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"Since we obviously do not have that Senate, this rule should be scrapped, and these nominees should be brought up for votes immediately."

Seems like the dems thought it was useful when they wanted to block countless judge appointments. Suddenly now it's a bad tool?

I seem to remember when Republicans believed that Presidents should have broad discretion with respect to their cabinet and sub-cabinet appointees. Now they are reduced to holding up science advisors, the hypocrisy is both rank and utterly predictable.

d'd'd'dave, could you please provide evidence of the Democrats using this sort of hold to block judicial appointments (as opposed to filibusters, to which Hilzoy does not refer)? For extra credit, could you please point to examples of the Dems blocking judicial (heck, any) nominees as a method of Senatorial extortion to apply pressure on the Administration with respect to issues utterly unrelated to the merits of those particular nominees?

Thanks in advance.

I seem to remember when Republicans believed that Presidents should have broad discretion with respect to their cabinet and sub-cabinet appointees. Now they are reduced to holding up science advisors
This criticism would probably be more effective if the Senator who has taken the credit for victimizing these science advisors in the service of an unrelated (and misguided) policy agenda weren't Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey.

"Without Senate confirmation, the two economists are barred from advising the president..."

Somebody hasn't read the First Amendment lately? "Advice" is just speech, Obama can get advice from anyone he damned well pleases, without Senate confirmation. Maybe they won't be doing it from a fancy office with a nice salary, but they can start advising him any time they want. I'm pretty sure the President has authority to order those of his subordinates who would be the advisors' subordinates to supply them with any data they request, too.

This criticism would probably be more effective if the Senator who has taken the credit for victimizing these science advisors in the service of an unrelated (and misguided) policy agenda weren't Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey.

Agreed, although it’s pretty safe to assume it’s got to be Republicans blocking anything these days, it’s not always true. Same with the spending bill. Headlines: “Senate Republicans blocked a $410 billion omnibus spending measure…” Unmentioned:

Nelson's potential no vote could be critical to the legislation's chances and it came as Martinez, a Republican, teamed up with New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez to muster votes to block the bill because of the proposed changes to U.S.-Cuba policy, including the removal of funding to enforce travel restrictions.


Obama can get advice from anyone he damned well pleases, without Senate confirmation.

I had the exact same thought Brett. I mean, if he has a question concerning Descartes there is nothing in the world that prevents him from picking up the phone and calling hilzoy.

For someone who goes on and on about the 2nd amendment, you don't care much for sticking to the Articles, particularly Article II

[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

It also is ironic because I think you've argued about the necessity of transparency. The whole purpose of creating a Council of Economic Advisors is completely subverted if Obama just gets on the phone and gets the advice. Also, I'm relatively certain that it's not things like 'plant your winter wheat early', but advice that is accompanied with the detailed reports and statistics that the economists have asked the staff to compile. It would be like saying 'hey, your HMO won't pay for second opinion, but I'm sure you know a doctor, so why don't you call one up and get some advice. We won't prevent him from talking to you.'

Hmmm, why bother having any staff, including Cabinet Secretaries, at all if Obama can just pick up the telephone and solicit advice?

Maybe folks would like to be paid for lending their expertise. Working in the vaunted private sector will spoil a person that way.

To quote Descartes: "You pay me, therefore I speak."

If nothing else, I wish the Senate would revise its rules to get rid of anonymous "holds". If a Senator actually believes there are real problems, the least he or she could do is put his name to it!

Also, I'm relatively certain that it's not things like 'plant your winter wheat early', but advice that is accompanied with the detailed reports and statistics that the economists have asked the staff to compile.

And possibly reports which are not suitable for public consumption, e.g. national security issues.

How can you (or Josh) possibly judge the Republicans' complaints regarding these two candidates, given that you don't know the complaints? Maybe it's more than the standard "we chose not to pay our taxes."

How can you (or Josh) possibly judge the Republicans' complaints regarding these two candidates, given that you don't know the complaints?

Bloomberg: Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada “was outrageous in abusing the Senate’s advise and consent powers,” said Tony Fratto, a former Bush spokesman. “So no one should be surprised if Senate Republicans follow the precedent he set.”

yep, that sure sounds like they have some deep and honorably-held objections, arrite.

Well, that was embarassing. Note to self: always check the links and do not make a comment in the middle of the night. Speaking of embarassments, Menendez really needs a new job, and it is absurd that one Senator (of any party) can hold up an appointment like this, however some of the reports seem to indicate that Menendez may not be the only Senator involved. The only positive development is that the anonymity that used be awarded to Senators making holds seems to be eroding.

von: I have no view about the complaints. What I do have a view about is allowing Senators to block nominees indefinitely without saying who they are, let alone what their complaints are. I wish I could have an informed view of their complaints that didn't depend on anonymous comments in news outlets.

Cleek, Tony Fratto's comments were in response to the argument that Republicans were using an improper process to voice these objections. It has nothing to do with the objections themselves, which no-one knows.

Again, I say: How can you, Hilzoy, or Josh possibly judge the Republicans' complaints regarding these two candidates, given that you don't know the complaints?

Again, I say: How can you, Hilzoy, or Josh possibly judge the Republicans' complaints regarding these two candidates, given that you don't know the complaints?

Um, wouldn't it help to know WHO they are so we can find out WHAT we are? Kinda basic...

Tony Fratto's comments were in response to the argument that Republicans were using an improper process to voice these objections. It has nothing to do with the objections themselves, which no-one knows.

uh huh.

principled arguments don't usually require unprincipled procedures from anonymous actors in order to be heard.


    The Senate’s Republican leader, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, declined to respond when asked about Goolsbee and Rouse. His spokesman, Robert Steurer, also declined to comment.

    Bush’s last CEA chairman, Edward Lazear, lacked a fully operational council for most of his tenure, as the confirmation of his two deputies got bogged down in Senate politics.

    “This was nothing personal, it was tit-for-tat,” said Lazear in an interview. “One of the R’s held one of their guys, so the D’s held some of our guys.”

Again, I say: How can you, Hilzoy, or Josh possibly judge the Republicans' complaints regarding these two candidates, given that you don't know the complaints?

Um, wouldn't it help to know WHO they are so we can find out WHAT we are? Kinda basic...

Not to mention knowing what the complaints are. Here we have anonymous senators with unspecified complaints. I'd say the presumption that they are just being a**holes is pretty strong.

"For someone who goes on and on about the 2nd amendment, you don't care much for sticking to the Articles, particularly Article II"

Nah, I'm quite obsessive about it, but nothing in that Article prohibits the President from asking private citizens for advice without Senate permission. Now, paying them for that advice? That would be a whole 'nother matter, unless he's going to do it out of his own pocket.

"Hmmm, why bother having any staff, including Cabinet Secretaries, at all if Obama can just pick up the telephone and solicit advice?"

Because that way, they be put on the payroll?

But there is no justification at all for allowing one Senator to hold nominations up indefinitely.

I don't think anyone is attempting to hold up nominations indefinitely. The slow workings of government can be annoying, but it's not necessarily a bad thing: if Republicans have legitimate concerns about the nominees, this process gives them a chance to investigate more closely. And if a few unreasonable folks are simply being obstructionist, the rest of the senate can just override their holds.

principled arguments don't usually require unprincipled procedures from anonymous actors in order to be heard.

Harry Reid used the same "unprincipled procedures". A little late in the game to be crying foul.

Not to mention knowing what the complaints are. Here we have anonymous senators with unspecified complaints. I'd say the presumption that they are just being a**holes is pretty strong.

Only if you proceed on the assumption that the Democrats are always right and the Republicans never have legitimate concerns.

Again, maybe the problem is as simple as a failure to pay taxes. That kind of problem is not exactly unheard of in this administration. Or maybe there are other problems. You don't know. Reid knows, but he's not saying.

Harry Reid used the same "unprincipled procedures". A little late in the game to be crying foul.

no argument there. as that was never my argument anyway.

von: Only if you proceed on the assumption that the Democrats are always right and the Republicans never have legitimate concerns.

Given the lessons of the past 8 years, while I would never say "the Democrats are always right", does anyone seriously expect the Republicans to have "legitimate concerns"? It's not likely, is it?

Only if you proceed on the assumption that the Democrats are always right and the Republicans never have legitimate concerns.

What if I proceed on the assumption anyone who acts anonymously with no announced reason is being an a**hole?

I personally dislike this Senate folderol, despite all the business about "deliberative body," "cooling saucer," etc. When you have rules that give lots of power to individual Senators, and let them exercise that power in secrecy and with no accountability, you have enormous potential for ridiculous and dysfunctional power trips.

von,

Stop me on this, but if IIRC, even under Reid, "holds" by Republican senators are being honored. Under the previous leadership, any hold by a Democratic senator was generally ignored.

I believe there is a difference.

What if I proceed on the assumption anyone who acts anonymously with no announced reason is being an a**hole?

Sure, except sometimes a-holes are right.

You are going to need to provide a link for your claim, Fraud Guy.

* * * * *

The bottom line: The Obama Administration has mishandled appointments to treasury. Geithner has largely been a bust thus far.* Two critical nominees have withdrawn. These (additional) two nominees are languishing, but it's not clear that they're languishing just because Republicans are being "mean" -- there could be real problems. And if the Republicans have no justificiation for the holds, why isn't Obama's team pushing harder?

I appreciate that it's easiest to lay the blame on Republicans, but it's the Obama Administration that's screwing this one up. If you're blaming the Republicans in public, I can hold hope that y'all are sharing your harsh words with the Democrats in private.

*Unfortunately, we can't get rid of him, because he (like CitiGroup and AIG) has become too important to fail.

Regarding the President just calling up and asking for advice, two points are worth consideration:

1. Various Secretarys and other high officials have specific powers assigned to them by statute.

2. The Federal Advisory Committee Act (pdf here) is a sunshine law that restricts the ability ofthe President from turning his statutory appointees into standing advisors. (remember Cheney's energy advice committee, or HillaryCare?)

And if the Republicans have no justificiation for the holds, why isn't Obama's team pushing harder?

von,

I can appreciate the constitutional (both formal and informal customary/traditional) arguments for Senate prerogatives, but this statement quoted above doesn't seem to be anything other than a polite way of saying that Republicans are obstructionist by nature so it is up to the Democrats to overcome them somehow, and try not to think about the parable of the scorpion and the frog while doing so.

This is precisely the sort of thing that I think about when Obama talks about "the failed politics of the past". If the GOP has a point of principle to stand on, then for crying out loud they should just get up on their soapbox and let us know where they stand. Who knows, maybe they even have a point which makes sense? This is sort of hard to judge if it isn't out in the open, though.

But this petty obstruction for its own sake is simply mind-boggling. It seems just plain childish to me, and I don't have the patience for it anymore. The contrast with the way Democrats have at least initially accommodated new Republican administrations, especially during a perceived time of crisis (such as after 9-11) is baffling and infuriating. And it isn't just me noticing this contrast either.

It really seems to me like Republicans have such a deeply entrenched sense of partisan entitlement and permanent possession of power that they think they are never supposed to lose elections, and if by some freak event that actually happens then they are within their rights to delegitimize and destabilize the government so as to prevent it from accomplishing anything, as if they are indeed a sort of American Taliban resistance movement. There is some historical precedent for this attitude in the resistance of the South to the post-Civil War Reconstruction regime. It seems to me that for the GOP it is always and forever 1866 all over again, whenever they are out of power.

This is not a game lacking in consequences. If our elites (both political and media) think that they can just continue to play these silly games forever and they truly succeed at running the ship of state onto a reef then I fear that at some point there will be actual physical violence when the general public has a Howard Beale moment and just can't take it anymore. Judging from some of the crap which is already surfacing on right wing websites (Sean Hannity, I'm looking at you) it appears that the more authoritarian elements on the right are already hoping and planning for this moment, thinking how they might channel and guide public anger and real physical violence to their advantage.

What alternate explanation do you have? If I harbor suspicions that somewhere buried in the dark heart of the GOP leadership lurks the poison of neo-Confederate sedition which has never really gone away since the 1860s, what evidence do you have to counter that?

I can appreciate the constitutional (both formal and informal customary/traditional) arguments for Senate prerogatives, but this statement quoted above doesn't seem to be anything other than a polite way of saying that Republicans are obstructionist by nature so it is up to the Democrats to overcome them somehow, and try not to think about the parable of the scorpion and the frog while doing so.

No, not at all. Both Democrats and Republicans can be obstructionist for good or bad reasons. That's the nature of the beast. If Republicans are being obstructionist for a bad reason, it's incumbent on Obama (and the Democrats) to bring that out. Same goes the other way.

But the more significant criticism of Obama is that he's screwing up treasury all by himself.

It really seems to me like Republicans have such a deeply entrenched sense of partisan entitlement and permanent possession of power that they think they are never supposed to lose elections, and if by some freak event that actually happens then they are within their rights to delegitimize and destabilize the government so as to prevent it from accomplishing anything, as if they are indeed a sort of American Taliban resistance movement.

Really? Couldn't we have said the same thing about the Democrats obstructing Bush's judicial nominees?

What alternate explanation do you have? If I harbor suspicions that somewhere buried in the dark heart of the GOP leadership lurks the poison of neo-Confederate sedition which has never really gone away since the 1860s, what evidence do you have to counter that?

I'm not the one spinning out theories about how Republicans are engaged in Taliban-style resistance to the forces of good and light. I'm the one saying that no information means, well, no information. I satisfy any evidentiary burden I might have.

But they are not stating any reasons. It's an anonomyous hold fer christs sakes. It is somehow incumbent on everyone else to suss out the reasons for the hold - even not knowing who made it - then spend time determining is that is the objection. Then after whatever possible reason is dug up and dismissed but the hold remains I'm sure there will be fair minded people still saying well maybe there are other reasons, why don't you guys go check that out.

It's not incumbent on the administration to do the GOP's homework for them.

von, wouldl you please give evidence of the Dems "obstructing" without any stated reason, more than say 20 of Bush's judicial nominees. I picked that number because it actually pales in comparison to the number of Clinton's nominees that were blocked by Republicans.


But the more significant criticism of Obama is that he's screwing up treasury all by himself.

On this we agree. What does that have to do with the other non-Treasury appointees, though?


Really? Couldn't we have said the same thing about the Democrats obstructing Bush's judicial nominees?

But IIRC in the cases where Democrats have obstructed Republican appointments they have (1) publically stated their reasons for objecting, and (2) obstructed lifetime appointments to the Federal bench, which are somewhat more consequential than say a science advisor. Also please note the difference in timelines. Democrats were not nearly so obstructionist at the beginning of the Bush 43 admin (note John Cole's recollection of that period which I linked to above), nor were they thus in the aftermath of 9-11. If we are not right now in a crisis of equivalent seriousness, and if politics as usual is the best approach, I'd like to hear somebody in the GOP have the courage to stand up in public and say that. Not Gonna Happen.

This doesn't have the same flavor, it is petty harrasment for no obvious reason other than to simply bog down the administration and distract it from paying attention to other issues. It is like a DoS attack on a network, just trashing the target for no purpose other than to prevent normal operations from happening.


I'm not the one spinning out theories about how Republicans are engaged in Taliban-style resistance to the forces of good and light.

Not my choice of words. I'm taking Rep. Pete Sessions' remarks and contextualizing them in terms of the history of the American South, the region which is the largest remaining bastion of GOP dominance and appears to have contributed mightily to the cultural DNA of the GOP.

It seems to me that we have one political party which looks for areas of common agreement and tones down or postpones their partisan oppostion during a national crisis, and one which does the exact opposite. I find it very hard not to contextualize this behavior using the history of the Confederacy, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. The ironic part is that the political parties have swapped sides since then, while broader social and cultural patterns persist. The South (and the party of the South) only want this country to succeed when they are running the show - and if they can't be the rulers of the House Divided, they'd rather see it fall down.

von: "I appreciate that it's easiest to lay the blame on Republicans"

Actually, I am laying blame on (a) the individual Senators involved, one of whom is a Democrat, and (b) the Senate (for not changing one of its more idiotic rules), which is led by a Democrat.

Every little bit helps Obama fail.

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