This article originally appeared at Washington Independent and is reprinted here in partnership with Washington Independent and the Center for Independent Journalism.
Republicans are holding up a vote to confirm Surgeon General nominee Regina Benjamin
because, basically, of arguments over health care reform. In the
context of Democrats buckling to Republican demands and holding two
hearings on the constitutionality of “czars,” it seemed especially
strange. Today, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made what I think is the
hardest-edged, most direct and sustained criticism of the Republican
minority’s campaign of holds and filibusters on Obama administration
and judicial nominees. He started with Benjamin.
General in place,” said Reid. “And the reason is as simple as it is
mind-boggling: Republicans in the Senate refuse to confirm President
Obama’s exceptionally qualified nominee for this job. I would try to
explain the Republican reason for their refusal, but as with so many
other things they oppose, a rationale simply doesn’t exist. Senate
Republicans are simply so opposed to everything – absolutely everything
– that they even oppose putting people in some of the most important
positions in our government.”
Here’s Reid’s whole statement:
“Last week, four Nevadans tragically died from the H1N1
virus. In Clark County, Nevada – the state’s most populous county and
the home of Las Vegas – 18 people have now died this year from H1N1.
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“We are all familiar with this strain of the flu – it has been on
the front pages for months. This past weekend, President Obama
declared the outbreak a national emergency in anticipation of a rush of
patients to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms.
“Fortunately, for nearly 150 years the United States has had a
high-ranking official in place to serve as the government’s top
public-health officer. We call that person the Surgeon General.
“Unfortunately, though, right now we have no permanent Surgeon
General in place. And the reason is as simple as it is mind-boggling:
Republicans in the Senate refuse to confirm President Obama’s
exceptionally qualified nominee for this job.
“I would try to explain the Republican reason for their refusal, but
as with so many other things they oppose, a rationale simply doesn’t
exist. Senate Republicans are simply so opposed to everything –
absolutely everything – that they even oppose putting people in some of
the most important positions in our government.
“Democrats, on the other hand, believe that those who have chosen to
serve our country must be able to get to work without delay.
“M. President, perhaps those watching and listening think this is
how the Senate always operates. It is not. Allow me to put these
delays in context:
“The Senate has confirmed 366 of President Obama’s nominees. How
does this compare historically? At this point in President Bush’s
first term, 421 of his nominees were already at their desks. At this
point in President Clinton’s first term, 379 nominees were on the job.
And 480 of President Reagan’s nominees were confirmed. But Senate
Republicans have only allowed President Obama 366.
“In fact, in the first four months of the Bush Administration, when
the Senate was controlled by the President’s party and we were in the
minority, there wasn’t a single filibuster of a Bush nominee. Not one.
“But in the first four months of the Obama Administration,
Republicans filibustered eight of his nominees. That means that
President Obama faced twice as many filibusters of his nominees in his
first four months as President Bush faced in his first four years.
“Now, those watching and listening may also understandably assume
that if this is not how the Senate always operates, there must be
something extraordinarily controversial about these nominees –
something highly objectionable, or even questionable. Again, there is
“As I mentioned, Republicans in the Senate refuse to confirm our
nation’s Surgeon General at a time when the President has declared a
national emergency over the H1N1 virus. But President Obama’s nominee,
Regina Benjamin – a physician from Alabama and the founder of a
non-profit rural health clinic – is eminently qualified for the
“That’s not all. They also refuse to confirm the top official
responsible for science and technology in our Department of Homeland
Security. For that position, President Obama nominated an expert in
combating both pandemics and bioterror attacks. Imagine that:
Americans are bracing against a flu epidemic here at home and threats
of terrorism from abroad, the President nominated someone highly
experienced in both of those areas, and Republicans are saying no.
“If that sounds like something you wouldn’t want your Senate to do,
you might be even furthered concerned that it’s not the first time
these Republican Senators have done it. While our sons and daughters
are fighting in Iraq and rebuilding that nation, Republicans earlier
this year delayed the confirmation of America’s ambassador to Iraq.
And while troops serve bravely in Afghanistan, Republicans earlier this
year delayed the confirmation of Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our new
commander in that difficult war.
“These telling examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Allow me to continue:
“Months ago, President Obama picked a trade expert who worked in the
Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations to be this nation’s Deputy
Trade Representative. But she has yet to officially join the Obama
administration. Why? Because a Republican Senator is holding up the
nomination over a bill that he thinks would hurt tobacco companies.
“If that seems like an unrelated, random reason to hold up this
qualified nominee, you might be even more outraged to learn that the
bill that so angers this Republican Senator is not even before the
United States Senate. It’s not even in the United States House of
Representatives. In fact, it’s not even in the United States. The
bill is before the Canadian Parliament. It should go without saying
that our Administration cannot dictate how the Canadian legislature
does it job, any more than the Canadian Parliament can dictate how we
do ours. It should go without saying, but unfortunately, we evidently
must say it.
“Another example: President Obama nominated the former chief of
staff of the General Services Administration – which manages the basic
functions of our federal agencies – to lead that organization. He
nominated her in April, on the first full day of the Major League
Baseball season. Today, on the second day of the World Series, she
still remains unconfirmed for that job. Why? Because a Republican
Senator is demanding a federal building is built in his home state.
“One more example: President Obama asked an expert in Latin American
affairs – a man who has written books on regime change in that region
and has been a visiting scholar at Oxford and many other universities –
to be our nation’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere
“Nearly half a year after he was nominated, one Republican Senator
still refuses to allow his confirmation to move forward. This
Republican Senator is trying to force our nation to recognize a
military coup in Honduras, and so he is holding this nomination
hostage. Most people would reasonably conclude that this nominee’s
expertise would be particularly useful at a time when there is a
diplomatic crisis in Central America. But Senate Republicans don’t.
“These examples are not isolated. They are part of a much larger
pattern. Republicans this year have already gone to great lengths to
ensure President Obama cannot have his full team in place.
“They have already wasted taxpayers’ precious time and money by holding up the President’s nominees for:
- the Secretary of Labor;
- the Secretary of Health and Human Services;
- the Director of National Drug Control Policy
- the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior;
- two members of the Council of Economic Advisors;
- several Assistant Attorneys General;
- and many others.
“These nominees finally broke through. But their story doesn’t end
there. When votes were finally called, they passed with flying colors:
They passed with vote counts of 89-2, 97-1, 88-0 and 97-0. The numbers
don’t lie, and there’s no clearer evidence that many of these
objections are without merit.
“So it’s obvious that these objections are not the norm, that they are not based on qualifications, and that they are rampant.
“As far as Republicans are concerned, no one is too important to
block, no high-ranking position is too important to remain empty, no
problem is too urgent to delay.
“If I sound like a broken record, it’s because Senate Republicans
continue to be record-breakers. Last year, after they held up the work
of Congress more than any other time in history, the American people
rejected the Republican status quo. They said ‘no’ to Republicans’
“There is no question the American people are taking notice. There
is no question they see these games for what they are. There is no
question they are fed up with these petty, partisan tricks. And there
is no question that these reckless tactics have consequences.
“I would say that Republicans delay and delay at their own peril –
but the truth is, all Americans suffer. It’s time Republicans let us
get to work.”