This week, Peter Diamond withdrew his nomination to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Though he was a recent recipient of a Nobel Prize in economics, Republicans in the Senate blocked Diamond’s nomination because he was “an old-fashioned, big government Keynesian,” in the words of Senator Richard Shelby. A few weeks ago, Goodwin Liu withdrew his nomination to a federal appeals court after Republican senators refused him a vote, possibly because he testified for Democrats during the Samuel Alito confirmation hearings.
This is part of a larger confirmation crisis in the Senate: Republicans have blocked 223 of President Obama’s 1,132 executive and judicial appointees—over 20 percent. Republican senators have enforced a strict sixty-vote threshold for most nominations, and sometimes holds are placed on nominees anyhow. This hobbles crucial federal agencies and is yet another successful prong of the Republican war against effective government.
Here are some of the most crucial positions in government that are still awaiting a permanent appointment:
(1) Jim Cole is already serving in the No. 2 spot at the Department of Justice after President Obama gave him a recess appointment last year, because Senate Republicans held up his nomination. He can serve only through the end of this calendar year, however, and last month Senate majority leader Harry Reid tried once again to confirm Cole permanently. He came up eleven votes short, with every Republican except Senator Richard Lugar voting against confirmation. Cole’s sin, according to Republican senators, is that he supports all available tools for prosecuting terrorists—including federal trials.
(2) After months of lockstep Republican opposition in the Senate, Joseph Smith withdrew his nomination to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency in January. FHFA oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and Obama has not named another appointment following Smith’s withdrawal. According to the Wall Street Journal, Republicans opposed the nomination because they “feared Mr. Smith would heighten pressure on Fannie and Freddie to slash mortgage balances for troubled homeowners.”
(3) The US Fish and Wildlife Service has no permanent director, though Obama nominated Dan Ashe to lead the bureau months ago. But Sen. David Vitter put a hold on Ashe and said he’d keep it there until the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement issued fifteen offshore oil drilling permits. (BOEMRE, like Fish and Wildlife, is overseen by the Interior Department). The fifteenth permit was issued last week and Vitter withdrew his hold—but Senator Mike Lee is going to place a hold on Ashe over the Interior Department’s “wild lands” policy, which protects unused land from energy exploration.
(4) The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms hasn’t had a director since 2006 because the National Rifle Association has pressured senators to hold up every single nomination—even those by George W. Bush. Obama nominated Andrew Traver, a Navy veteran and longtime ATF special agent, to head the agency last year. But the NRA immediately came out against Traver because they connected him to promotion of “a variety of gun control schemes.” That might seem like natural experience for someone who hopes to lead a large federal agency charged with cracking down on illegal gun violence and trafficking, but apparently Republicans disagree—Traver’s nomination has been languishing in the Senate for months.
(5) Obama nominated John Bryson to lead the Commerce Department last week, and Republicans are already preparing for war on his nomination. Bryson helped start the National Resources Defense Council—or if you prefer the words of Senator James Inhofe, Bryson is “the founder of a radical environmental organization.” Inhofe has pledged to “work actively to defeat his nomination.” Other Republicans say they won’t vote to confirm Bryson until the Obama administration agrees to three free-trade agreements without including labor and environmental protections.
(6) Anybody who heads the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Senate Republicans took their obstruction to new levels last month, when forty-four senators signed a pre-emptive letter to President Obama saying they would oppose anyone that he nominated to lead the CFPB. Republicans are demanding a long list of changes that would reduce the agency’s power, including the creation of a five-member commission to run the CFPB instead of a single director. It’s a new low—Republicans aren’t just blocking the nomination of a particular person, but the existence of their intended position.