Screwing over Dawn Johnsen

SCREWING OVER DAWN JOHNSEN…. In a Senate where the Democratic caucus now stands at 59 votes, this is just ridiculous.

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moves to ease a backlog of executive branch nominations, he suggested on Tuesday that he does not have the votes to bring up President Barack Obama’s pick to run the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

“Right now we’re finding out when to do that,” Reid said, responding to a question about the status of Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen’s nomination to the Justice post. “We need a couple Republican votes until we can get to 60.”

Let’s acknowledge at the outset that allowing a shrinking Senate minority to mandate 60 votes for confirmation is itself absurd. No president in American history has had to deal with this kind of obstructionism to put together the team he wants, staffing relatively unknown administration posts. It’s obstructionism on an unprecedented scale and it’s an unsustainable way for the political process to operate.

Let’s also take a moment to note that Johnsen is an exceptional nominee, who is unquestionably qualified, and clearly deserves confirmation.

That said, what kind of show is Harry Reid running here? His caucus has 59 members, and Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana, a conservative Republican, has already endorsed Johnsen’s nomination. We have Democratic senators who won’t even let the president’s choice for the OLC get a vote because she’s pro-choice?

I know that Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) oppose Johnsen’s nomination. Fine, they can vote against her when the Senate votes on her confirmation. But denying Johnsen an up-or-down vote, because 15 years ago she provided legal counsel in support of legal reproductive rights, is farcical.

Christy Hardin Smith noted this morning, “This is a failure of leadership. Period.” She’s absolutely right.

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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.