Free Wendy Spencer

Let’s just say for the sake of argument you’re Barack Obama, and just to get things in Washington moving a bit, you sent the Senate a nomination they could not refuse. You find a card-carrying Republican backed by none other than Marco Rubio, who has appointments from both Bush Brothers on her resume. And that resume features distinguished service promoting civic activism in the non-profit sector, not work at some big government program.

That’s exactly what the president did in sending up Wendy Spencer’s name as proposed CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the entity that supervises the AmeriCorps program, among other worthy ventures.

But like a big batch of other Obama nominees, Spencer remains on the sidelines, unconfirmed and denied a vote, despite unanimous approval of her appointment by the appropriate Senate committee.

It’s especially a shame, since both Spencer and the entity she should be running could serve as a rare example of bipartisanship. As some of you may remember (I certainly do, as a national service activist who worked on the very first federal legislation and then helped implement the original AmeriCorps initiative in state government down in Georgia), AmeriCorps was initially opposed by a lot of Republicans for the simple reason that it was a signature program for Bill Clinton. Just about every year, House Republicans sought to kill it, and did succeed in starving its funding for much of the Clinton administration.

George W. Bush slowly became an AmeriCorps backer, and the program lost much of its partisan toxicity. In particular, John McCain became an enthusastic supporter. Then Barack Obama made a significant expansion of AmeriCorps and other federally-backed but locally operated service opportunities a focus in his own presidential campaign. With Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch coming together to sponsor such an expansion, something miraculous happened early in 2009: Congress approved an expansion initiative. In the Senate, the Kennedy-Hatch bill passed by a 79-19 margin, with an actual majority of Republicans voting for it. If Wendy Spencer can be confirmed, this legacy of bipartisanship in one small but symbolically rich corner of government might well be continued.

Former Sen. (and Clinton-era CEO of the CNCS) Harris Wofford recently issued a plea to his former Republican colleagues to make an exception for Spencer. So far, nothing’s happened. But Wendy Spencer’s limbo status is as good an example as anyone could find for the mindless obstructionism represented by the GOP’s war for appointment gridlock.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.