THE INK on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s resignation letter was hardly dry before members of Congress started bickering about his replacement. Lobbing overwrought criticism at Mr. Holder’s record, Republicans demanded that the country’s next top law enforcement officer eschew ideology and remain independent of the White House — and they tried to rule out filling the job quickly, before the next Senate sits in 2015. Mr. Holder, who has promised to lead the Justice Department until a replacement is confirmed, may be in office for many months yet.
Confirmation fights are rarely warranted, particularly when they involve Senate micro-management of a president’s picks to staff his administration, rather than lifetime judicial appointments. Senators should stick to ensuring that nominees are qualified and competent, not that they would be satisfactory picks for a GOP president. There’s no good reason they couldn’t do that job three weeks from now as well as three months from now. Given that, there’s reason for concern about more than just who will succeed Mr. Holder, or how long the transition will take. The preemptive controversy is a bad sign of how Republicans intend to approach all of President Obama’s nominees next year, when they may well hold the majority in the Senate.
Even with Democrats in charge and laxer confirmation rules than before, the Senate confirmation process is a national embarrassment — in some ways worse than ever. Look, for example, at the number of U.S. embassies around the world that lack ambassadors. According to the American Foreign Service Association, 47 nominees are awaiting confirmation to represent the United States in nations as varied as Azerbaijan, Finland, Paraguay and the United Arab Emirates. Of those, 37 have already had a hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee. True, some of these people are “political” nominees, drawn from outside the ranks of career diplomats, and some of those political nominees are unqualified. But many are well prepared and, besides, 28 career diplomats are also languishing in confirmation hell.
Republicans are sore about a change in Senate confirmation rules the Democrats pushed through last year over strong GOP objections. So they are taking out their anger on the country’s foreign policy apparatus, refusing to confirm ambassadorial nominees en masse. This serves no one’s interest, except perhaps those who wish the United States harm. And it is only one example of a confirmation dysfunction that may get only deeper next year.
Instead of fighting about hypothetical attorney general nominees, senators should answer for their poor record on confirmations. Better yet, they could actually do something about the backlog.
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