For the first time, Senate Republicans blocked a nominee of the Obama administration, mounting a filibuster against the appointment of David Hayes to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department in a dispute over oil and gas leases in Utah.
An attempt to force a final vote on Mr. Hayes’s nomination fell short of the required 60 votes Wednesday morning as Republicans stood nearly united against Mr. Hayes, a former Interior Department official during the Clinton administration.
Well, “required 60 votes” is itself a dubious claim. A majority of the Senate wanted to confirm Hayes, but Republicans, for reasons that had nothing to do with Hayes or his qualifications, decided he shouldn’t get a vote.
Indeed, the GOP has been quite candid about this. Sen. Robert Bennett’s (R-Utah) office conceded yesterday, “This is not about Hayes.” What it’s about is a decision by the Obama administration to rescind some oil and gas leases in the West. Oil companies aren’t happy about it, which means Republican senators aren’t happy about it, which means the GOP has decided to punish the administration by refusing to let the Senate vote on a qualified Interior Department nominee.
What does Hayes have to do with the oil and gas leases? Nothing. Republicans just want to obstruct to make a point. They are, in other words, playing a petty, partisan game. Again.
Here’s the roll call, but it’s a little misleading. Hayes secured 57 votes, three short of the artificial minimum set by the shrinking Republican minority. It would have been 58, but Majority Leader Harry Reid switched for procedural reasons (by voting “nay,” he can bring the nomination back to the floor at another time). It would have been 59, but John Kerry was in Massachusetts attending a funeral for a soldier killed in Iraq. It would have been 60, but Barbara Mikulski of Maryland wasn’t in the chamber at the time.
Why the leadership didn’t wait and hold the vote when Kerry and Mikulski were available, giving Hayes 60 votes, is unclear, but it suggests the nomination isn’t completely dead yet.
Either way, though, it points to a process that is unsustainable. Qualified nominees who “only” enjoy the bipartisan support of a clear majority of the Senate are now denied floor votes. The Senate was never created to work (or not work) this way, and as Matt Yglesias noted this morning, the trend is “pointing in the direction of constant filibustering leading to the total paralysis of the American government.”