Dawn Johnsen: My Nomination Was Blocked To Score ‘Political’ Points Against Obama On Terrorism

In a must-read article about the broken confirmations process in the Senate, Dave Weigel quotes former Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen explaining that conservative objections to her failed nomination had nothing to do with actual disagreements with her views:

“I’m not going to talk about any individual meetings with senators,” [Johnsen] says, “but the impression that I got was it wasn’t about me, that it wasn’t personal. It was political. And there were some senators who were very open about that. It wasn’t a difference in substantive views. The things I was attacked for saying about torture, for example—Lindsey Graham and John McCain have talked about that the same way.” (Neither publicly supported her nomination.) “You definitely need to look at how all the terrorism issues and nominees who dealt with terrorism issues were treated. The attempt was to describe President Obama’s approach as not sufficiently tough on terrorism, and make that a political issue.

And Johnsen is hardly the only Obama nominee that became the focus of a smear campaign despite no legitimate objections to her fitness for public service. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) accused failed judicial nominee Goodwin Liu of wanting to use the courts to turn America into “communist-run China,” and a law review article that became the centerpiece of the conservative claim that Liu was a judicial activist was in many ways a call for judicial restraint. Similarly, while no one on the right has provided a plausible explanation for why Peter Diamond’s nomination to the Fed board needed to be blocked, Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) claim that the Nobel Prize-winning economist was unqualified is obviously absurd.

Johnsen, Liu, and Diamond can at least say that their nominations were high-profile enough that people noticed the campaign of obstruction against them. The sad truth is that many nominees simply die a quiet death as senators delay their confirmation votes into oblivion. Indeed, this silent obstructionism caused Obama to have a lower percentage of his judicial nominees confirmed during his first two years in office than any other president in American history.

Weigel’s piece concludes with an uncharacteristically smart idea by Manuel Miranda, the disgraced former Senate staffer best known for hacking Democrats’ computer servers and stealing confidential documents. Miranda proposes allowing nominees at the rank of assistant secretary or lower to begin doing their job before they are confirmed by the Senate. Doing so would be a real step towards preventing the hollowing out of government we are currently witnessing.