Senators take a holiday hike and leave Obama nominees twisting in the political winds


Anne Patterson, center, attends a Cairo news conference as U.S. ambassador to Egypt. Her new job — assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs — is on hold. (Asmaa Waguih/REUTERS)
Al Kamen
November 25, 2013

Traditionally, before the Senate takes a long vacation, both parties negotiate to approve a list of noncontroversial judicial and executive branch nominees. But not this time. Republicans, furious over the Democrats’ move to eliminate the filibuster on most nominations, were in no mood to play nice.

So as the senators slithered out of town Thursday for Thanksgiving — apparently they eat a lot and need time to digest, so they won’t be back until Dec. 9 — they left more than 70 nominees, all of whom had been approved by Senate committees, twisting in the wind.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Many of those nominees are up for very senior jobs, such as deputy secretary of state, and several are looking to be undersecretaries at the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Energy.

The State Department is taking the biggest hit, starting with the nominee for deputy secretary, Heather Higginbottom, and continuing with undersecretary nominees Sarah Sewall for civilian security, democracy and human rights; Richard Stengel for public diplomacy; and Rose Gottemoeller for arms control and international security.

Several key would-be assistant secretaries of state were also shut out, including Anne Patterson for Near Eastern affairs. (Maybe the senators don’t know that means she’d be overseeing somewhat important countries such as Iran, Israel, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia?) And there was no vote on the nomination of Tom Malinowski to be assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor.

In addition, the freeze affected 15 or so ambassadors-in-waiting — including mega-bundlers Robert Sherman for Portugal, Tim Broas for the Netherlands, Pamela Hamamoto for the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, and Dwight Bush for Morocco.

Well, let’s see whether the Christmas spirit affects the lawmakers.

A McJob opening

Lots of buzz in the Irish press about Tom Carnahan as President Obama’s choice to fill the long-empty slot of U.S. ambassador to the Emerald Isle.

Yes, you read that correctly — that’s Tom, the brother of Russ Carnahan, the former Missouri congressman who was first reported to be the leading candidate for the job. Tom Carnahan is a businessman and a top Obama bundler (and the son of former Missouri governor Mel Carnahan, who posthumously defeated John Ashcroft for a Senate seat).

Younger brother Russ was thought to be in line for the job, but he has reportedly removed his name from consideration.

Russ Carnahan did not return our calls, and we could not immediately reach Tom Carnahan.

And even if Tom winds up being Obama’s pick, the nomination could take a while. IrishCentral says Tom’s name has “begun to circulate in White House circles.” The Irish Times reports that he’s “emerged as the leading candidate,” though he’s yet to go through the vetting process.

Any delay isn’t likely to sit well with the Irish, who have been growing impatient with Washington as the embassy in Dublin collects cobwebs. The job has been open since former envoy (and another big Obama donor) Dan Rooney left nearly a year ago.

But we hear it’s not a done deal yet — for Tom Carnahan or anyone. There are other candidates in the mix, including, we hear, Washington lawyer Mark Tuohey.

Those lucky bureaucrats

We asked Loop fans for their suggestions for best and worst federal jobs, and — no surprise — it was mostly the curmudgeons who replied.

Here are a few of our favorite submissions for the least desirable gigs:

One reader, identified as Salvarsan, tells us that the worst job (one that presumably was his) was as public health adviser to the city of Newark. “Working in a basement VD clinic, with no ventilation and no windows. Wondering if your car would still be there at the end of the day — or if it would only be missing its tires.”

Yikes. But here’s where he surprised us. “BEST: same job.”

Another reader shares the story of the most notorious gig at the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service back in 1970. “It was known as the Rabid Bat Detail,” he wrote. “PHS officers were investigating the spread of rabies in Arizona. Picture guys in hip boots wandering about in bat guano up to their knees while ducking rabid bats swooping overhead.”

A third reader submits this job as a contender for lousiest: president of the United States. “Since every word the president utters and every action the president takes, almost including when and where he goes to the bathroom, are subject to public scrutiny and also to criticism by those who oppose him, his is the worst federal job.”

At least there’s pretty nice housing.

Finally, a career Foreign Service officer underscores the perks-aren’t-everything perspective.

She was the U.S. consul general in Bordeaux in the late 1980s, she reports. Perks: “a nice house with a cook and cleaning lady, a driver for official functions, and entree to wine chateaux and palaces.” Sign us up! But then there was the downside, she says: No pay raises, and a 12-to-16-hour workday (with no overtime pay) most days, including weekends.

She also had to deal with “death threats,” “gun-toting” crazies and no secure electronic communications with the embassy in Paris or with Washington.

Keep that in mind next time you hear of a federal job that sounds pretty nice.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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