Following a Senate hearing yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar explained to reporters that his department “can’t go about doing our job” because Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is preventing the confirmation of his top land staff:
We don’t have the capacity at this point in time, frankly, to provide those answers, because I don’t have the leadership yet. So yes, it will be a detriment at this point in time. We frankly can’t go about doing our job if we don’t have our people in place.
Senate rules allow a single Senator to anonymously block the confirmation of Presidential appointments, for any reason. McCain is blocking Bob Abbey, the nominee to be the Bureau of Land Management administrator, and Wilma Lewis, the nominee for Interior’s assistant secretary for land and minerals, “until the Obama administration takes a position on his legislation to clear a path for a copper mine in Arizona‘s Tonto National Forest.”
McCain is not the only senator to abuse his privilege by holding nominees in order to extract concessions from the Obama administration:
— Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) has placed a hold on Robert Perciasepe, nominated to be the Environmental Protection Agency’s second in command, because “he is dissatisfied” with the EPA finding that clean energy legislation would only cost American households a postage stamp a day.
— Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) has placed a hold on Cass Sunstein, nominated to be the director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, on concerns from the agriculture industry about his opinions on animal welfare.
While conservatives block key appointees, they’re also railing against the Obama administration for trying to staff up with appointees that don’t require Senate confirmation. The right-wing has referred to these appointees as “czars” that are part of a “socialist plot” and a “giant expansion of presidential power.”