Sen. Shelby Holding Up All Obama Nominees — Including Top Security Officials — To Secure Pork For Alabama

Richard Shelby Yesterday, CongressDaily (sub. req.) reported that Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) had “placed a blanket hold on all executive nominations on the Senate calendar in an effort to win concessions from the Obama administration and Pentagon.” In a move that is “a far more aggressive use of the power than is normal,” Shelby is holding up more than 70 nominees.

Some of the nominees Shelby is blocking include “the top Intelligence officers at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security as well as the number three civilian at the Pentagon.” Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) objected on behalf of Shelby when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) attempted to bring some of the national security nominees up for a vote:

We learned why Thursday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked again to have votes on the nominees and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell objected, he said, on behalf of Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Al.

The reason? Shelby is concerned his state might lose some (very) lucrative defense contracts.

In other words – pork. Shelby calls them “unaddressed national security concerns.” McConnell called it “an issue with which I’m not terribly familiar.”

“He is not able to be here at the moment to state his position,” said McConnell of Shelby. McConnell implied that that he’d rather go ahead with the votes. “Maybe we can in discussions with him make some progress on these sooner rather than later. but for the moment I’m constrained to object on his behalf,” said McConnell.

In particular, Shelby has laid down the nearly unprecedented blanket hold in order to gain leverage for his home state interests on two federal contracts:

— A $40 billion contract to build air-to-air refueling tankers. From CongressDaily: “Northrop/EADS team would build the planes in Mobile, Ala., but has threatened to pull out of the competition unless the Air Force makes changes to a draft request for proposals.” Federal Times offers more details on the tanker deal, and also confirms its connection to the hold.

— An improvised explosive device testing lab for the FBI. From CongressDaily: “[Shelby] is frustrated that the Obama administration won’t build” the center, which Shelby earmarked $45 million for in 2008. The center is due to be based “at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal.”

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, expressed his “frustration” and “dismay” over “the road blocks which have been placed in the way of Senate nominations for key positions at the Department of Defense” on the Senate floor yesterday. “Nobody has informed me of any concern about the qualifications of anyone of these five nominees and yet there’s an objection here on the floor of the Senate,” said Levin. Watch it:

“We’ve got a huge backlog of folks who are unanimously viewed as well qualified — nobody has a specific objection to them — but end up having a hold on them because of some completely unrelated piece of business,” said President Obama on Wednesday. “That’s an example…of the kind of stuff that Americans just don’t understand.”