WASHINGTON ― Republicans have stalled dozens of President Joe Biden’s nominees from being confirmed across several departments, including those in charge of putting criminals behind bars, supporting small businesses and maintaining national security.
The dilatory procedural tactics have frustrated Democrats and given proponents of institutional reform even more ammo in the case for why the rules need to be changed.
“We have to change something. It’s another way for Republicans to shut down the Senate,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), an advocate of eliminating the filibuster, told HuffPost.
Republicans can’t actually block all of Biden’s nominees from being confirmed. But they can use the existing rules of the Senate to drastically slow down their appointments, dragging out the process of filling what have typically been uncontroversial jobs in lower-level positions across the federal government.
With the GOP refusing to expedite many of Biden’s nominees, placing so-called “holds” on them at the committee level, Democrats must carry out multiple votes to confirm each one, eating up valuable floor time that could be spent on other legislative business.
“The Republicans have exploited every twist and turn in the rules to try to keep people from getting into the jobs so they can do the work that needs to be done,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. “It’s obscene.”
Tom Cotton’s Partisan Blockade Of Federal Prosecutors
This week something extremely rare happened in the Senate: It held a roll call vote on a U.S. attorney nominee. Such nominees are typically confirmed by voice vote. The Senate last held a roll call vote to confirm a U.S. attorney nominee in 1975.
Rachael Rollins, Biden’s pick to serve as the next U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, would become the first Black woman to hold the position if confirmed. Democrats were forced to discharge her nomination out of committee in a 50-47 vote on Thursday after Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) blocked her nomination from moving forward. He has accused Rollins, who is known as a progressive prosecutor, of being soft on crime.
But Rollins isn’t the only prosecutor Cotton has sought to block. The Arkansas conservative, who once placed a hold on a Barack Obama nominee until she died, has vowed to stall every U.S. attorney nominee Biden has named from states with Democratic senators.
“Most of what we have heard from my Republican colleagues – in the committee hearing and out here on the floor – is simply untrue,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said Thursday. “Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins is a strong Black woman committed to racial justice, with a better record on crime than other old-school prosecutors, and it just plain scares them.”
Ted Cruz And Josh Hawley Wage War On Pentagon, State Department
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Josh Hawley (Missouri), two potential 2024 presidential candidates, have placed holds on dozens of Biden’s nominees to the State Department and the Pentagon, including his pick for the next U.S. ambassador to NATO and ambassador nominees to Israel, France, India and other nations.
Cruz says his blockade is in retaliation to a Biden administration decision to drop U.S. opposition to the construction of a Russian gas pipeline to Germany that is called Nord Stream 2. He wants the White House to impose sanctions to prevent the use of the pipeline, which has already mostly been completed,
“There is still time to stop Nord Stream 2 from coming online,” Cruz said in a statement last week. “If President Biden implemented the law and imposed mandated sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG — the company responsible for the planning, construction, and operation of the pipeline — it would send a signal that the U.S. is serious about preventing further progress on Nord Stream 2.”
Hawley, meanwhile, has misgivings about the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. He, too, has stalled the appointment of dozens of uncontroversial foreign policy nominees, who are typically confirmed by unanimous consent.
Democrats called Republicans’ tactics unprecedented and accused them of endangering national security by keeping critical posts in the State Department and Pentagon empty.
“This is compromising the nation’s security. Republicans think that by creating global chaos they can hurt President Biden,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “We didn’t act like this when Donald Trump was president. The rules as they stand today just aren’t working ― they’re working for the benefit of the minority, they’re not working for the benefit of the country.”
GOP Boycott Leaves Top Small Business Administration Post Empty
No one has been waiting longer than Dilawar Syed.
Biden nominated Syed to be deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration ― the No. 2 job at the agency ― on March 3, meaning he has been in limbo longer than any other Biden nominee.
No one disputes Syed’s qualifications. Born in Pakistan, Syed is a successful businessman who has stepped into public service roles in both California and at the federal level.
Yet Republicans refuse to even give him a committee vote. They’ve now boycotted Small Business Committee hearings on five occasions, denying Democrats the quorum needed to proceed.
“This is just beyond the pale. Beyond the edge. It’s such an abuse,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who chairs the Small Business Committee.
GOP senators acknowledge they’re holding him up over something he had nothing to do with ― loans given to Planned Parenthood affiliates under the previous administration that they want revoked ― but they have also questioned his allegiances because of his Muslim faith.
Syed, however, has wide support from the business community, civil rights groups and faith organizations, who have decried the GOP’s blockade.
Democrats don’t see any immediate solutions to the boycott.
“We’re considering every option. I’m not sure a rules change does it in a 50-50 Senate. I can’t think of a rules change that would work in this case,” Cardin said on Thursday.
Biden Making Progress On Judicial Nominees Despite Delays
Republicans have forced delays on some of Biden’s court picks, too, though they can’t hold up these nominees for long.
GOP members of the Judiciary Committee have unanimously voted against advancing several of Biden’s judicial picks out of the committee. That resulted in a tie vote for these nominees, which means they are stuck in committee until Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) forces them out via a procedural step called a discharge petition. That drags out the process a little bit longer.
But Republicans can’t put a hold on a judicial nominee. And once a court nominee is ready for a floor vote, Democrats benefit from a rules change that Republicans put into place when they held the majority: A district court nominee only requires two hours of debate time, versus the 30 hours that were previously required before Republicans drastically changed that rule in April 2019.
District court nominees make up the vast majority of judicial nominees moving through the Senate, so Republicans ultimately can’t do much to stop the president from making headway in filling court vacancies.
To date, Biden has made judicial nominations a top priority and has been getting judges confirmed faster than decades of past presidents.