Sen. Tom Cotton’s Double Standards on Nominees

On inauguration day, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas released an intemperate statement to the press:

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans are in Washington this weekend at a designated special national-security event, yet the Democrats are obstructing the nomination of Mike Pompeo as CIA Director for no good reason. For Senator [Ron] Wyden’s [of Oregon] sake, I hope the jihadists take the weekend off from trying to kill Americans.”

I’d like to focus on that “no good reason” part of his complaint. As Charles Pierce pointed out last June and Frank Bruni reported in the New York Times, Senator Cotton once blocked President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to the Bahamas for a very bad reason, which seems to me to be worse than no reason at all.

There’s a larger backstory to this that I could rehash but it’s not necessary here. This is the meat of it.

The Senate held a hearing [for Cassandra Butts’s] nomination in May 2014, and then … nothing. Summer came and went. So did fall. A new year arrived. Then another new year after that.

When I met her last month, she’d been waiting more than 820 days to be confirmed. She died suddenly two weeks later, still waiting. She was 50 years old.

The delay had nothing to do with her qualifications, which were impeccable. It had everything to do with Washington. She was a pawn in its power games and partisanship.

For Tom Cotton, who put a hold on her nomination and refused to lift it, his reasons were personal and he was apparently quite honest about them, including with Ms. Butts.

She told me that she once went to see him about it, and he explained that he knew that she was a close friend of Obama’s — the two first encountered each other on a line for financial-aid forms at Harvard Law School, where they were classmates — and that blocking her was a way to inflict special pain on the president.

Cotton’s spokeswoman did not dispute Butts’s characterization of that meeting, and stressed, in separate emails, that Cotton had enormous respect for her and her career.

So, let’s weigh that performance against the performance of Democrats who refused to allow Pompeo to be confirmed without a thorough vetting by Trump’s inauguration day. Pompeo’s nomination was announced on November 18th, but the new Senate that needs to review his qualifications wasn’t seated until January 3rd. At the time that Cotton made his complaint it had been seventeen, not 820, days since Pompeo’s nomination had been received.

It’s true that the Director of the CIA is a more important position than the ambassador to the Bahamas, but that’s also why the vetting for the DCI is the bigger responsibility and should take more time rather than (in the end) infinitely less.

Certainly, no Democratic senators were refusing to rubber stamp Pompeo’s nomination out of a personal desire to “inflict special pain” on the president or anyone else. Tom Cotton apparently yelled at Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over what he perceived as a broken promise to give Pompeo a voice vote along with the generals confirmed to serve at Defense and Homeland Security, but Schumer doesn’t have any control over Sen. Wyden who sits on the Intelligence Committee and blocked the move.

I guess that Cotton is good friends with Pompeo. Perhaps they bonded over their unhinged fascination with the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.

 

All I know is that Cassandra Butts died of leukemia after waiting for years in vain to get a confirmation vote, and that Cotton more than anyone else was responsible for that.

He’s just not credible on this issue. And, in any case, the last I heard, Pompeo will get a roll call vote today and will probably be confirmed despite being a lunatic, which couldn’t have been said about Ms. Butts.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.