They serve at the pleasure of the president

THEY SERVE AT THE PLEASURE OF THE PRESIDENT…. Presidents, upon taking office, replace their predecessors’ U.S. Attorneys. There’s nothing “partisan” about it.

One of the better spoils of winning the presidency is the power to appoint nearly 100 top prosecutors across the country. But filling the plum jobs has become a test of competing priorities for President Obama. While he pledged bipartisanship during his campaign, replacing the cadre of mostly conservative U.S. attorneys would signal a new direction.

There’s something wrong with the reasoning here. To hear the Washington Post tell it, if President Obama appoints a new slate of U.S. Attorneys to replace George W. Bush’s prosecutors — lawyers who were judged, not incidentally, by whether or not they were “loyal Bushies” — this is somehow “partisan.”

If Obama replaces “loyal Bushies” it certainly would “signal a new direction.” But isn’t that what the presidential election was all about? Given that every president names a new team of prosecutors, isn’t this what Obama is supposed to do?

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, acknowledged that the Obama White House “can’t want” the remaining U.S. Attorneys from Bush’s tenure, but added, “These are all very, very conservative Republicans. I think it’s going to be tricky, because if they do nine of them at once, the Republicans are going to scream exactly like the Democrats did.”

Perhaps, but the Republican screaming wouldn’t make sense. When the Bush White House launched its “purge” campaign, it targeted U.S. Attorneys were deemed insufficiently partisan. Prosecutors who seemed too willing to pursue Republican lawbreaking, or insufficiently willing to go after Democrats, were replaced with more reliable ideologues. Democrats “screamed” because this was as blatant an example of politicizing law enforcement as any in American history.

What Obama is poised to do is obviously far different. U.S. Attorneys are routinely replaced when administrations change hands, especially when a new president is of a different party.

The Washington Post piece suggests a Democratic president replacing Republican prosecutors at the beginning of a term is somehow inconsistent with his “pledged bipartisanship.” This comes the day before the Post argued that Obama also can’t talk about the crises he inherited without being “partisan.”

I’m starting to get the sense that if President Obama strays from the Republican rule book at any time, the Post is going to express some disappointment.