Republicans were taken to task by President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s for dragging their feet on his nominations to the federal bench. The majority GOP, though not necessarily correct in holding up the nominations, said they had serious questions about some of the alleged activist judges being nominated.
The Democrats, watching their numbers dwindle in Congress, have gotten their revenge in spades. Filibusters by the Democrats have prevented President Bush from seeing his judicial nominees confirmed even though a majority of the Senate would vote with the president on his nominations.
Now, Democrats are transferring their inquisition to new levels. Bush has been trying for two months to fill the vacancy at the head of the Environmental Protection Agency only to have Democrats stall the nomination.
Bush nominated Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to head the EPA. The nomination has gone nowhere because Senate Democrats, including three currently running for President, have blocked the nomination in the Senate Environment Committee, which must give approval before a final confirmation vote. Though the GOP holds a majority of the votes in the committee, the Democrats have boycotted two previous votes and are expected to be no shows at additional votes scheduled this week.
Democrats have many reasons to block the nomination. Yes, many disagree with the President’s environmental agenda and will do anything to thwart his handling of the agency. There’s also the Democrats’ policy of disrupting the Republican agenda as they control both houses of Congress and the White House.
But there’s a deeper, more cynical, dynamic at work here. Sens. Joe Liberman, John Edwards and John Kerry are helping sustain this stalling tactic in order to pacify the environmental lobby to further buttress their presidential aspirations. Losing their support would take its toll in the early weeks of the primary campaign season.
“The Democratic senators running for president have more to lose politically by lifting their holds on Mike Leavitt than keeping them unless the environmental groups give them the green light,” U.Va. political junkie Larry Sabato told the Associated Press about the fiasco.
The debate in the Senate (or lack of one) revolves less around whether Leavitt is qualified to run the EPA as it is about the policies of his boss. That’s also the reason Democrats have blocked almost every judicial nomination. And if a Supreme Court justice were to retire this year, the process of “advise and consent” will really be twisted by Senate Democrats.
While Republicans are not clean in the gradual breakdown of the confirmation procedure, Democrats have pushed it to a point where the constitutional process of “advise and consent” will have to be amended some day in order to avoid paralyzing gridlock in the executive nomination process.