Shelby’s blase obstructionism

SHELBY’S BLASE OBSTRUCTIONISM…. In a Congress when Republicans’ obstructionist tactics have become scandalous, and a discredited GOP minority has effectively shut down the American policymaking process, Sen. Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama still stands out for his brazenness.

Shelby, you’ll recall, placed a blanket hold on several dozen administration nominees, holding them hostage until the senator was paid off in earmarked pork. He eventually backed off, at least in part, though he continues to block Senate votes on three top positions in the Air Force.

CNN’s Dana Bash asked the right-wing senator yesterday whether his actions are justified.

BASH: I spoke with Geoff Morrell over at the Pentagon and just asked him what the impact is of not having these three people in place — one of whom, as you know, is the number two at the Air Force. He said, “Without these people, we’re not firing on all cylinders.” And he also said, “It does adversely affect the organization.”

Are you worried about that? This is a time of war —

SHELBY: The Pentagon is a big place. I don’t think one or two will affect anything except on the margins.

BASH: Do you think that the nominees you have holds on are qualified?

SHELBY: Oh, I don’t have any idea.

In a sane political world, this would put Shelby in an impossible-to-defend position. In the midst of two wars, the Pentagon wants to fill key Air Force vacancies, and the Commander in Chief has sent two qualified nominees to the Senate for confirmation. If given a vote, the nominees would be easily approved and could get to work.

A Republican senator (1) doesn’t care what the Pentagon wants in the midst of two wars; (2) believes vacancies in the Air Force leadership aren’t important; and (3) has no idea whether the nominees he’s blocking deserve consideration.

I’m trying to imagine the political world’s reaction if a Democratic senator had done this in, say, 2002. If the Pentagon said a Democratic block is “adversely affecting” operations during a war, and the Dem said he didn’t care, wouldn’t that be considered pretty scandalous?

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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.