The confirmation process for President Donald Trump’s various nominees has been a bit of a drawn-out mess, primarily because the incoming administration doesn’t fully grasp the magnitude of the task in front of it and that many of the president’s selections have not effectively stuck to the standard procedure of vetting by the Office of Government Ethics. But atop all of that, senators still have their basic advise and consent duties to perform, which everyone involved should have known from the outset.
Certainly Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) should have understood the basics, seeing as he has a role to play in this grand pageant of agency bureaucracy. Nevertheless, something in the way this has played out with Trump’s pick to head the CIA has triggered the junior senator from Arkansas. And so, in the manner of all aggrieved people, he went on Twitter to broadcast his complaints.
Is this nomination being held up for “no good reason”? I’m sure your mileage will vary. As was reported at the end of last week, a trio of Democratic senators ― Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) ― have made it clear that they oppose “a rushed confirmation” of Mike Pompeo. Republicans are accusing Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) of breaking faith on a deal to have Pompeo in office by the end of Inauguration Day.
There’s actually nothing to suggest that there will be a delay in Pompeo’s confirmation that lasts much beyond the early part of this week. Schumer has said, in fact, that “Pompeo would be confirmed Monday after Democrats had a chance to debate [his] nomination.” Nevertheless, an overheated Cotton was moved to state on Inauguration Day, “Hundreds of thousands of Americans are in Washington this weekend at a designated special national-security event, yet the Democrats are obstructing the nomination of Mike Pompeo as CIA Director for no good reason. For Senator Wyden’s sake, I hope the jihadists take the weekend off from trying to kill Americans.”
I’m guessing that Cotton then spent the night keeping careful watch over the city. (Or maybe our national security apparatus is capable of handling things during a brief interregnum between directors.)
At any rate, Cotton is a duly elected senator with a lifetime of legitimate experience that he is allowed to use to inform his view on Pompeo. He may not require further debate on the appointment and that’s fine. But one area in which he really lacks the standing to speak is that of confirmation delays, having ceded it long ago with a personal decision that will go down in the Beltway annals as one of the most unnecessarily petty moves of all time.
The whole dumb saga, which began in the late spring of 2014, was chronicled by The New York Times’ Frank Bruni two years later:
At another point Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, put a hold specifically on Butts and on nominees for the ambassadorships to Sweden and Norway. He had a legitimate gripe with the Obama administration over a Secret Service leak of private information about a fellow member of Congress, and he was trying to pressure Obama to take punitive action. But that issue was unrelated to Butts and the Bahamas.
Cotton eventually released the two other holds, but not the one on Butts. She told me that she once went to see him about it, and he explained that he knew that she was a close friend of Obama’s — the two first encountered each other on a line for financial-aid forms at Harvard Law School, where they were classmates — and that blocking her was a way to inflict special pain on the president.
Reached for comment, Cotton’s office “did not dispute Butts’ characterization of that meeting.” The whole matter became moot on May 25, 2016, when Butts died of leukemia, a disease she didn’t know she had at the time of her appointment. She spent the last two years of her life as a prop in an utterly needless dustup that had nothing more to it than petty and spiteful vindictiveness.
So Cotton should really sit this one out ― which he can do with confidence that relief for his burden will come in an insignificant fraction of the time he waged this knock-down campaign of cruelty for “no good reason.” He can also do so with the assurance that no one who asked for further debate on Pompeo’s appointment did so with an eye toward “inflicting special pain” on him. That’s just a happy accident.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.