SHELBY SHAKEDOWN SHUTDOWN?…. It was one of the more audacious gambits of the 111th Congress — Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) placed a blanket hold on several dozen administration nominees, holding them hostage until the senator was paid off in earmarked pork.

Yesterday, Shelby backed off — for the most part.

Senator Richard Shelby, the Republican from Alabama, today lifted many of his holds on nominations to administration posts by President Obama that require Senate confirmation.

The move may temper a threat by Democratic leaders in the Senate — and even the White House — that the administration would make recess appointments during next week’s Presidents’ Day break, bucking any notion of senators’ approval.

Or it may not. Shelby released his blanket hold on all pending nominees, but he’s still blocking President Obama’s choices for the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force; Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics; and Under Secretary of the Air Force.

The Pentagon needs those offices filled, and can’t wait for a far-right senator — who claims to want less government spending — to get paid off in pork. The White House would certainly be justified in filling those vacancies in the face of unprecedented Republican obstructionism, with Congress breaking for a brief recess this weekend.

As for the larger context, Shelby’s office said the conservative senator pulled this stunt “to get the White House’s attention.” I suppose that was effective — the scheme was hard to miss — but ultimately futile. Shelby dropped most of his holds in exchange for nothing, and in the process, became the poster child of Republican excess and corruption of the political process.

That he backed down at all just a few days after launching his stunt suggests Dems were at least somewhat effective in embarrassing Shelby. With that in mind, the majority party should keep up its efforts to shine a light on GOP tactics that have gone out of control.

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.