Thursday, December 31, 2009

Because There Are Rules

One of the sillier Senate rules is the one that allows a single senator to stop the confirmation of a White House nominee for a federal position in its tracks. The ostensible reason for this rule is that the senator placing a hold on the nomination because the senator wants time to check out some pertinent information on the nominee so the record is complete before the confirmation comes up for a vote. In actuality, the hold is usually imposed whenever a senator wants something in return for lifting the hold.

Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-S.C.) hold on the White House nominee for head of the Transportation Security Administration falls under the category of "not-until-you-give me ..." category, as a NY Times editorial makes clear.

The Obama administration failed to offer a nominee until September, pleading the time was needed to find the right executive for the important post. Their belated choice, Erroll Southers, is a former F.B.I. agent who earned high marks when he served as chief of homeland security for California. He was easily approved by two Senate committees and heading for bipartisan confirmation — until the South Carolina Republican obstructed.

What’s the problem? Mr. DeMint says he won’t let the nomination go forward until he’s assured that a legal ban on T.S.A. workers unionizing will remain in place. Even after last week’s near-disaster over the Detroit airport, Senator DeMint clung to his union-bashing and knee-jerk warnings about the risks of security workers being allowed to collectively bargain.

He absurdly argued that “union bosses” will only worsen airline security (never mind that other federal workers and all manner of police forces responsibly exercise that right) while suggesting that President Obama has been out to “appease the terrorists.”

I suspect Sen. DeMint, in addition to union trashing, was also engaging in that Grand Old Party game of "Just Say No", but the point is that he could get away with it under the rules of the Senate.

Now, I think it improbable that the lack of a permanent head for one of our security agencies was the direct cause of the nearly successful Christmas Day bomb attempt by an obviously deranged Nigerian man, but it certainly didn't help. That gave the Democrats a tool to use against the Republicans, and for a change, Harry Reid decided to use it. Sen. DeMint is discovering that his own grandstanding has, because of its timing, just turned around and bit him in the backside.

As much fun as it is to watch Sen. DeMint squirm (and I am enjoying every bit of it), it does show once again that the aristocratic body known as the United States Senate has some collegial rules that need to be tossed, and this is certainly one of them. Will the senators make the change? Not without a lot of pressure being brought to bear, but this case just might be the one to stimulate some action.

We'll know in three weeks when the Senate reconvenes.



Anonymous Jamie said...

I thought deMint wwas one of those Senators who always said the preside3nts nomineess should get an up or down vote. Ohh, he's a Southern Republican... nevermind

1:25 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Jamie, elections only have consequences when the GOP wins.

4:10 PM  

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