Presidential nominations shouldn't be used as pawns for political gain.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

SEN. RICHARD C. Shelby has brought congressional hostage-taking to new lows. The Alabama Republican last week single-handedly held up several dozen of President Obama's nominees, saying he was upset with the administration's handling of a pair of big-ticket military and national security projects that could mean thousands of jobs for his home state. With such a hold in place, nominees generally have to muster 60 votes to avert a filibuster, lest their nominations wither on the vine.

Mr. Shelby relented on the "blanket hold" late Tuesday but left in place holds for three Defense Department nominees. This type of arm-twisting and obstructionism is unacceptable, no matter how many nominations are at stake.

Nominees should be judged on their merits, and the president deserves significant deference in choosing the people he wants. A hold may be appropriate if a senator has serious concerns about a nominee's qualifications or character, but it is obnoxious for a lawmaker to refuse to let a nomination move forward unless he gets concessions on a pet project or policy matter. Nominees become pawns in conflicts over which they have no say or control; important positions go unfilled, slowing down even more the already tortoise-paced workings of the federal government.

Forty-six of Mr. Obama's nominees have waited at least three months to be confirmed and nine have waited twice that long, according to The Post's Scott Wilson and Shailagh Murray. Mr. Obama's nominee to head the General Services Administration was confirmed only last week -- by a 96-0 vote, no less -- after a hold stalled her nomination for nine months.

Dawn Johnsen, Mr. Obama's well-qualified nominee to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, has been in limbo for almost one year. Her nomination is scheduled to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week; she should be confirmed. At the very least, she deserves to have her nomination voted on by the full Senate.

Some Democrats now speak about changing Senate rules to make it more difficult for the minority to filibuster; others, including Mr. Obama, are floating the idea of recess appointments that would allow the president to install candidates without Senate approval. Neither is a satisfying substitute for senators of both parties accepting their constitutional duties of advice and consent.


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