WASHINGTON: Senate Republicans blocked immediate approval of a mountain of mostly minor nominations by President Barack Obama late Monday in the aftermath of last month’s Democratic move weakening the minority party’s traditional ability to block most presidential appointments.
The action demonstrated that the GOP was intent on exacting a price for the changes majority Democrats muscled through the Senate in filibusters, or procedural delays minority senators can use to delay or kill nominations or bills.
Since last month’s changes mean that Democrats can win approval of Obama’s picks without GOP votes, Monday’s blockage does not imperil any of the nominations.
Included in the stack of 76 nominations was that of Janet Yellen, who Obama wants to head the Federal Reserve. Her Senate confirmation is still considered a virtual certainty.
Monday’s confrontation came as the Senate returned to work for the first time since Democrats made those changes on Nov. 21.
On Monday, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., objected to a request by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for unanimous approval of the 76 nominees. Most were minor, though besides Yellen the list includes Jeh Johnson to head the Department of Homeland Security and Deborah Lee James, Obama’s choice to be secretary of the Air Force.
“Until I understand better how a United States senator is supposed to operate in a Senate without rules, I object,” Alexander said.
Most of the nominees were for mid- and lower-level posts like ambassadors and federal judges.
Today, the Senate is scheduled to vote to confirm Patricia Millett to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A vote had been planned for Monday but was postponed because winter weather was making travel difficult.
Over the next two weeks, Reid plans to push five more major nominees through the Senate.
They include Yellen at the Fed, Johnson for Homeland Security and Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
There are also two more Obama picks for the remaining vacancies on the D.C. court — attorney Cornelia “Nina” Pillard and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins.