The Vetting Nihilists

Fun with subcabinet vetting:

Lael Brainard, nominated in March as Undersecretary for International Affairs, is the latest Obama appointee to be tripped up by the Senate Finance Committee. Of particular concern is Ms. Brainard’s use of a home-office tax deduction, according to people familiar with the inquiry. […] The delay in Ms. Brainard’s nomination is especially noteable because her husband, Kurt Campbell, was confirmed by the Senate on June 25 as Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs. If the couple filed a joint return, any errors would be his, too. State Department nominees are under the jurisdiction of the Senate Foreign Relations panel, and they are not subject to Finance Committee vetting.

To me there’s something very striking about the basically nihilistic impulses underlying the minority’s quest to dig this stuff up. It’s not like the cases of Dawn Johnson and Harold Koh where the nominees are somehow ideologically provocative. Both Brainard and Campbell (whose work I know better) are probably unusually conservative for Democrats, and these jobs are not exactly hotbeds of ideological contention. There’s just no way that Chuck Grassley or whomever else genuinely thinks that the national interest would somehow be advanced by spiking Brainard’s nomination. Now that the investigation’s been done, if there’s some problem with her back taxes obviously she should pay what she owes. But the fact that the investigation was even happening is ridiculous. Everyone thought she was well-qualified for the job, and it’s an important job that ought to be filled. She should have been confirmed swiftly and routinely soon after her name was sent to the floor. Institutionalizing a tradition of months-long delays in confirming subcabinet appointees is going to be incredibly destructive over time.