SURGEON GENERAL APPROVED WITHOUT OPPOSITION…. About three weeks ago, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved Dr. Regina Benjamin’s nomination to be the next surgeon general. The vote was unanimous, and there was little doubt she’d be confirmed by the Senate.

Until, that is, some Senate Republicans decided to put a hold on the nomination. They were angry, apparently, because HHS told Humana to stop using taxpayer money to mislead the public about health care reform. As “punishment,” the GOP decided to block all administration health-related nominees from receiving up-or-down votes.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said enough was enough. Senate Republicans, perhaps concerned about the public’s reaction to blocking a vote on a surgeon general nominee during a public health emergency, quickly backed down.

After much agitation earlier in the day, the Senate voted to confirm Dr. Regina Benjamin as the nation’s surgeon general on Thursday night amid a national emergency over the swine flu outbreak.

The Senate approved her on a voice vote. On Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, had taken to the floor to complain that her nomination, along with others, had been held up.

Given the larger context, it seems Reid’s forceful public criticism sparked the change and led to the confirmation.

It’s a reminder of the role of public shame in the Senate process. The GOP caucus, for example, obstructs the majority on an unprecedented scale. It’s not that the rules changed, necessarily, to make it easier for this Senate minority to be obstructionist. Other Senate minorities could have behaved this way but didn’t — they feared looking ridiculous and sparking a public backlash.

Perhaps the key, then, is shining a brighter light on Senate Republican tactics?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. 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.