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News Opinion Editorial

Senate obstructionists run wild [Editorial]

After "60 Minutes" ran a devastating piece on the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey O. Graham pledged to block President Barack Obama's nominees for Federal Reserve chairman and for the next secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Last week, after the CBS report was retracted because the star witness interviewed in the report, a former British security contractor, had been caught lying about whether he was at the site of the attack, the senator's position did not change.

Senator Graham said he wants to interview five State Department employees first or else the nomination will not go forward. That the Justice Department has cautioned against such an interview for fear it would endanger a potential criminal prosecution in the case seems to mean nothing to the senator.

But even if the worst of the senator's criticisms about the Obama administration's handling of the Libyan attack is true — that the Senate investigation has been stymied simply because Democrats find it embarrassing — that still would not justify holding up such important nominations.

It reflects the same sort of mentality that allowed Republicans to so willingly embrace a government shutdown — if you don't get what you want, take hostages and never mind the harm that will cause. Surely, it would be difficult to argue that running the Federal Reserve or the agency responsible for homeland security are inconsequential jobs.

Meanwhile, the Senate last week failed to muster enough votes to end the filibuster threat against President Barack Obama's nominee for the D.C. Court of Appeals, often regarded as the nation's second most powerful court. Was Cornelia Pillard considered unqualified or even especially political? No, the 52-year-old Georgetown University law professor is regarded as perfectly suited for the job (unless, of course, one thinks her writing that abortion is constitutionally protected is "extreme," as some anti-abortion groups apparently do).

The real problem is that Republicans don't want to fill out the ninth seat on the court because they don't want to change the court's ideological balance. That the nominee happens to be a highly-qualified woman means nothing to opponents — many of whom accuse the president of "court packing" for daring to fill an open seat or claim the court's caseload isn't heavy enough to justify the appointment.

That was the second Obama pick for the federal bench to be blocked by Senate Republicans in two weeks, and the total could rise shortly if the GOP similarly rejects Mr. Obama's other nominee for the D.C. Circuit Court — District Court Judge Robert L. Wilkins, the man often credited with ending racial profiling in Maryland. Pulled over by Maryland State Police on I-68 in Western Maryland, Mr. Wilkins successfully sued to end the practice of using race as a reason for a traffic stop.

Between Senator Graham threatening a hold on nominees because of a discredited television interview and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and others blocking qualified judicial nominations because — as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, observed — they want to "rig" the federal courts, it's clear the Senate rules are not working. GOP senators are treating Mr. Obama's reelection as inconsequential and his appointment authority as meaningless.

It would be one thing if the nominees were rejected on an up or down vote, but that's not the case in any of these instances. George W. Bush's appointees were never treated this shabbily. Such outrageous behavior by the political minority is only making the case for reforming the Senate rules to prevent such abuse. Obstruction has gotten out of the hand, and the Democrats' failure to do anything about it makes them look weak.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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