I reported earlier this week that Republicans were holding up a vote to confirm Surgeon General nominee Regina Benjamin because, basically, of arguments over health care reform. In the context of Democrats buckling to Republican demands and holding two hearings on the constitutionality of “czars,” it seemed especially strange. Today, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made what I think is the hardest-edged, most direct and sustained criticism of the Republican minority’s campaign of holds and filibusters on Obama administration and judicial nominees. He started with Benjamin.
[buttons] “Right now we have no permanent Surgeon General in place,” said Reid. “And the reason is as simple as it is mind-boggling: Republicans in the Senate refuse to confirm President Obama’s exceptionally qualified nominee for this job. I would try to explain the Republican reason for their refusal, but as with so many other things they oppose, a rationale simply doesn’t exist. Senate Republicans are simply so opposed to everything – absolutely everything – that they even oppose putting people in some of the most important positions in our government.”
Here’s Reid’s whole statement:
“Last week, four Nevadans tragically died from the H1N1 virus. In Clark County, Nevada – the state’s most populous county and the home of Las Vegas – 18 people have now died this year from H1N1.
“We are all familiar with this strain of the flu – it has been on the front pages for months. This past weekend, President Obama declared the outbreak a national emergency in anticipation of a rush of patients to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms.
“Fortunately, for nearly 150 years the United States has had a high-ranking official in place to serve as the government’s top public-health officer. We call that person the Surgeon General.
“Unfortunately, though, right now we have no permanent Surgeon General in place. And the reason is as simple as it is mind-boggling: Republicans in the Senate refuse to confirm President Obama’s exceptionally qualified nominee for this job.
“I would try to explain the Republican reason for their refusal, but as with so many other things they oppose, a rationale simply doesn’t exist. Senate Republicans are simply so opposed to everything – absolutely everything – that they even oppose putting people in some of the most important positions in our government.
“Democrats, on the other hand, believe that those who have chosen to serve our country must be able to get to work without delay.
“M. President, perhaps those watching and listening think this is how the Senate always operates. It is not. Allow me to put these delays in context:
“The Senate has confirmed 366 of President Obama’s nominees. How does this compare historically? At this point in President Bush’s first term, 421 of his nominees were already at their desks. At this point in President Clinton’s first term, 379 nominees were on the job. And 480 of President Reagan’s nominees were confirmed. But Senate Republicans have only allowed President Obama 366.
“In fact, in the first four months of the Bush Administration, when the Senate was controlled by the President’s party and we were in the minority, there wasn’t a single filibuster of a Bush nominee. Not one.
“But in the first four months of the Obama Administration, Republicans filibustered eight of his nominees. That means that President Obama faced twice as many filibusters of his nominees in his first four months as President Bush faced in his first four years.
“Now, those watching and listening may also understandably assume that if this is not how the Senate always operates, there must be something extraordinarily controversial about these nominees – something highly objectionable, or even questionable. Again, there is not.
“As I mentioned, Republicans in the Senate refuse to confirm our nation’s Surgeon General at a time when the President has declared a national emergency over the H1N1 virus. But President Obama’s nominee, Regina Benjamin – a physician from Alabama and the founder of a non-profit rural health clinic – is eminently qualified for the position.
“That’s not all. They also refuse to confirm the top official responsible for science and technology in our Department of Homeland Security. For that position, President Obama nominated an expert in combating both pandemics and bioterror attacks. Imagine that: Americans are bracing against a flu epidemic here at home and threats of terrorism from abroad, the President nominated someone highly experienced in both of those areas, and Republicans are saying no.
“If that sounds like something you wouldn’t want your Senate to do, you might be even furthered concerned that it’s not the first time these Republican Senators have done it. While our sons and daughters are fighting in Iraq and rebuilding that nation, Republicans earlier this year delayed the confirmation of America’s ambassador to Iraq. And while troops serve bravely in Afghanistan, Republicans earlier this year delayed the confirmation of Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our new commander in that difficult war.
“These telling examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Allow me to continue:
“Months ago, President Obama picked a trade expert who worked in the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations to be this nation’s Deputy Trade Representative. But she has yet to officially join the Obama administration. Why? Because a Republican Senator is holding up the nomination over a bill that he thinks would hurt tobacco companies.
“If that seems like an unrelated, random reason to hold up this qualified nominee, you might be even more outraged to learn that the bill that so angers this Republican Senator is not even before the United States Senate. It’s not even in the United States House of Representatives. In fact, it’s not even in the United States. The bill is before the Canadian Parliament. It should go without saying that our Administration cannot dictate how the Canadian legislature does it job, any more than the Canadian Parliament can dictate how we do ours. It should go without saying, but unfortunately, we evidently must say it.
“Another example: President Obama nominated the former chief of staff of the General Services Administration – which manages the basic functions of our federal agencies – to lead that organization. He nominated her in April, on the first full day of the Major League Baseball season. Today, on the second day of the World Series, she still remains unconfirmed for that job. Why? Because a Republican Senator is demanding a federal building is built in his home state.
“One more example: President Obama asked an expert in Latin American affairs – a man who has written books on regime change in that region and has been a visiting scholar at Oxford and many other universities – to be our nation’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.
“Nearly half a year after he was nominated, one Republican Senator still refuses to allow his confirmation to move forward. This Republican Senator is trying to force our nation to recognize a military coup in Honduras, and so he is holding this nomination hostage. Most people would reasonably conclude that this nominee’s expertise would be particularly useful at a time when there is a diplomatic crisis in Central America. But Senate Republicans don’t.
“These examples are not isolated. They are part of a much larger pattern. Republicans this year have already gone to great lengths to ensure President Obama cannot have his full team in place.
“They have already wasted taxpayers’ precious time and money by holding up the President’s nominees for:
“These nominees finally broke through. But their story doesn’t end there. When votes were finally called, they passed with flying colors: They passed with vote counts of 89-2, 97-1, 88-0 and 97-0. The numbers don’t lie, and there’s no clearer evidence that many of these objections are without merit.
“So it’s obvious that these objections are not the norm, that they are not based on qualifications, and that they are rampant.
“As far as Republicans are concerned, no one is too important to block, no high-ranking position is too important to remain empty, no problem is too urgent to delay.
“If I sound like a broken record, it’s because Senate Republicans continue to be record-breakers. Last year, after they held up the work of Congress more than any other time in history, the American people rejected the Republican status quo. They said ‘no’ to Republicans’ just-say-no strategy.
“There is no question the American people are taking notice. There is no question they see these games for what they are. There is no question they are fed up with these petty, partisan tricks. And there is no question that these reckless tactics have consequences.
“I would say that Republicans delay and delay at their own peril – but the truth is, all Americans suffer. It’s time Republicans let us get to work.”
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