PUTTING CHANGE ON HOLD:
moved into the White House in January, the GOP has managed to block at least thirty-two of his appointees and nominations. Using a parliamentary procedure known as a hold, Senate Republicans have kept key positions like secretary of labor and ambassador to Iraq unfilled for weeks. Some positions, such as head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), are still empty. A hold is supposed to be used by senators to buy some time to clear up any confusion and ask questions. Any senator can place one, even anonymously; and like a filibuster, it takes sixty votes to break.
In February, Obama named
as head of the OLC. Her responsibility would basically be to determine whether the president’s policies are legal–a critically important role in light of how the Bush administration used the OLC to justify torture. Using a distorted vision of her work with the prochoice organization
as an excuse, Republicans have successfully used holds and filibuster threats to keep Johnsen out of the OLC for eight months. The right also falsely claims that Johnsen once equated motherhood with indentured servitude.
, a widely respected centrist judge nominated by Obama to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, is another nominee trapped in appointment purgatory. Hamilton has been attacked for a litany of bizarre reasons, from his supposed court ruling against Jesus to the time he spent a month going door-to-door for
after college. Like Johnsen, Hamilton remains unconfirmed despite having been nominated months ago.
Senators can even place a blanket hold, tying up dozens of appointees at once. This was the case in September when a hold was placed by eight Republican senators against all nominees to the Department of Health and Human Services for what was essentially a skirmish over healthcare reform. Caught up in this hold is Dr.
, the president’s choice for surgeon general.
Republicans have also managed to block the appointment of New York Labor Commissioner
M. Patricia Smith
, Obama’s choice for Labor Department solicitor, over fears that she secretly used a state program to help unions. Incidentally, business groups also worry Smith will be too aggressive with her new authority to pursue wage violations.
The ease of its use and its remarkable ability to eat up the Senate’s time make placing a hold a win-win situation for the GOP. With healthcare reform, cap and trade and many other legislative goals unrealized, every minute wasted by Congress is a minute Democrats can’t devote to carrying out their agenda. ERIC NAING