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The White House’s “Not In Anger But In Sorrow” Response To The Shelby Hostage Crisis

The White House has gotten a hold of Richard Shelby’s ransom note, and communications director Dan Pfeiffer has penned a sad elegy to the days of bipartisan comity.

Yesterday, just hours after the Senate voted 96-0 to confirm Martha Johnson as the Administrator of the GSA after a pointless 9-month delay, we learned that Sen. Richard Shelby from Alabama has placed a blanket hold on all nominees, including national security nominees, to use as leverage for some projects in his state. He’s holding up 70 nominees, among them top intelligence officials at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. According to the National Journal, he’s holding them up until two defense contracts that would benefit interests in his state can be fast-tracked.

Let’s be clear: Sen. Shelby is preventing qualified nominees who will help protect the American people from being confirmed. He’s not alone, though. This is just the latest example of this kind opposition for opposition’s sake that the President talked about earlier this week. This strategy of obstruction is preventing qualified people from doing their jobs on behalf of the American people and it’s preventing real work from getting done in Washington. Every minute spent needlessly blocking noncontroversial nominees, many of whom go on to be confirmed by 70 or more votes or by voice vote (nine of the President’s nominees so far), is a minute not spent on the issues that matter to American families.

First of all, Pfeiffer, linking to The Note? That’s so mid-2003 of you. Spread the love.

Second, this tone of disappointment, conjuring images of a shaking head, really isn’t going to get it done. Pfeiffer is right on the merits – the obstruction strategy is indeed designed to paralyze Washington, and Shelby is a symptom of a greater disease – but show some political flair, fercryinoutloud. A message like “fortunately, the Constitution provides for recess appointments so the Senate can get down to the business of working for the American people rather than preventing qualified applicants from taking their jobs,” or “this attempted stick-up would cost the American taxpayer 1,000 times more than Ben Nelson’s effort to provide health care to the working poor in Nebraska, and it would all go to a foreign company.” You know, something with some pep.

And back it up with action. I’m sure OFA can start tying yellow ribbons around trees all across America, like was done during the Iranian hostage crisis. And Harry Reid could call for a surprise recess of the Senate for just enough time to seat every single nominee for up to two years.

All these options are available. But they would be too shrill. Better to not make trouble and let the Republicans and their 41-seat majority rule the chamber.

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David Dayen

David Dayen