Manufactured outrage watch

MANUFACTURED OUTRAGE WATCH…. It’s not just Arlen Specter; congressional Republicans in general are inclined to fight Barack Obama on at least one cabinet nomination, and they’re getting closer to going to war over Eric Holder, Obama’s choice to be the next attorney general.

For the most part, the GOP wants to complain incessantly about the 2001 Marc Rich controversy. But as the Washington Post reported this morning, plenty of Republicans realize “the pardon issue alone will not be enough to jeopardize Holder’s confirmation.” That’s especially true if the Democratic caucus has 58 (or 59) members.

So, in the hopes of delaying a vote on Holder, and throwing as much mud as possible at the new administration in the new year, Senate Republicans are gearing up for a kitchen-sink strategy. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), in a speech on the Senate floor yesterday afternoon, tried to connect Holder to every conservative complaint about the Clinton Justice Department in the ’90s. Grassley then went on try to connect Holder to Rod Blagojevich. (Blagojevich tried to hire Holder for some independent state review a few years back. The governor screwed up the process and Holder left. To argue this reflects poorly on Holder is ridiculous.)

In an obviously coordinated move, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), 20 minutes later, took to the Senate floor to complain, among other things, about Holder’s connection to the Elian Gonzales matter from 2000. In an especially odd move, Kyl went on to quote Glenn Greenwald — yes, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald — in the hopes of raising doubts about Holder.

And soon after that, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) also spoke on the floor, trashing Holder and threatening to prevent the nomination from “moving” until Republicans are satisfied.

To his credit, Pat Leahy seems unfazed by Republican whining.

The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee signaled on Friday that he will not acquiesce to GOP complaints and would stick to his original timeline for considering the nomination of Eric Holder as Attorney General.

In a lengthy statement from his office, Sen. Patrick Leahy offered no indication that he would move hearings on the Holder appointment from their scheduled date of January 8th. Moreover, he called GOP complaints that the nomination was being too quickly considered a fabricated and hypocritical critique driven by former Bush operative Karl Rove.

Rove, of course, said on the “Today” show recently that Senate Republicans should go after Holder. Soon after, the GOP base started targeting Holder, and all of a sudden, conservative senators who hadn’t said a word about Holder felt compelled to launch a campaign against him.

In the broader context, let’s remember that Obama campaigned on a new style of pragmatic, non-ideological politics, but Republicans didn’t. As Grassley, Kyl, and Coburn demonstrated yesterday, they see an opportunity to tie Holder to Clinton-era controversies, which would then tie Obama to Clinton-era controversies, and cast a pall over Obama’s young presidency. That neither Holder nor Obama have done anything inappropriate is irrelevant.

Republican obstructionism was overwhelming — indeed, record-breaking — in the 110th Congress, and after a series of humiliating election losses a month ago, one might think the party would be less interested in destruction and more interested in governing. Think again. The Holder fight is about setting a combative, contentious tone for Obama’s presidency.

The GOP wants to weaken Obama as quickly as possible. If that means a manufactured controversy over Holder, so be it.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.