Republicans Against Obstructing Nominees Before They Were For It

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April 7, 2009 10:06 a.m.
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If Republicans truly plan to filibuster Dawn Johnsen–Obama’s Office of Legal Counsel chief-designate–Democrats will be able to point to a long record of Republican statements decrying the very idea of obstructing a President’s prerogative to choose his cabinet officials and advisers. The group People for the American Way is circulating a document quoting several high profile Republicans who once decried the practice in no uncertain terms.

When President Bush nominated the fairly controversial John Ashcroft to be his Attorney General, Republicans raced to his defense. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)–then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee–took to the Senate floor to argue that Democrats “must afford the President a significant degree of deference to shape his Cabinet as he sees fit.”He was joined the same day by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who scolded Democrats, saying, “What the American people want and expect is…that we will not degenerate into partisan finger pointing or name-calling, nor obstruction of the kind we have seen occur time and time again against this President’s nominees.”

Sens. Lindsey Graham, Jon Kyl, and George Voinovich made similar statements.

Four years later, when Bush nominated Alberto Gonzales, Republicans were no less bullish about the president’s authority. Kyl warned that “unless there is some highly disqualifying factor brought to our attention – [we] should accede to the President’s request for his nomination and confirm the individual.” And no less than Sen. Arlen Specter–who is now unsure whether he’ll support Johnsen’s confirmation, said “Politics…is a poor reason for denying the President his choice.”

Ashcroft was ultimately confirmed on a 58-42 vote, Gonzales by a vote of 60-36. Neither was filibustered.

This selective opposition to obstruction is old sport for Senate Republicans. In 1997, Dawn Johnsen served as acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel because Republicans refused to confirm President Clinton’s first choice, former White House Counsel Beth Nolan.

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