White House dumps Dawn Johnsen

Dawn Johnsen withdrew her nomination yesterday for head of the Office of Legal Counsel, saying in a statement,

Restoring OLC to its best nonpartisan traditions was my primary objective for my anticipated service in this administration. Unfortunately, my nomination has met with lengthy delays and political opposition that threaten that objective and prevent OLC from functioning at full strength. I hope that the withdrawal of my nomination will allow this important office to be filled promptly.

Sam Stein posted the full text of Johnsen’s statement and commented,

The withdrawal represents a major blow to progressive groups and civil liberties advocates who had pushed for Johnsen to end up in the office that previously housed, among others, John Yoo, the author of the infamous torture memos under George W. Bush.

But the votes, apparently, weren’t there. Johnsen had the support of Sen Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) but was regarded skeptically by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — primarily for her positions on torture and the investigation of previous administration actions. A filibuster, in the end, was likely sustainable. Faced with this calculus, the White House chose not to appoint Johnsen during Senate recess, which would have circumvented a likely filibuster but would have kept her in the position for less than two years.

A White House statement said the president is searching for a replacement nominee and will ask the Senate to confirm that person to head the Office of Legal Counsel quickly. I still think the Obama should have included Johnsen in a group of recess appointments he made last month. Jake Tapper quoted an unnamed Senate source as saying the White House “didn’t have the stomach for the debate” on her nomination. It doesn’t reflect well on Obama or on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that Johnsen never got a vote in the Senate, even after it was clear there were 60 votes in her favor last year (before the Massachusetts Senate special election).

UPDATE: From a must-read post by Glenn Greenwald:

What Johnsen insists must not be done reads like a manual of what Barack Obama ended up doing and continues to do — from supporting retroactive immunity to terminate FISA litigations to endless assertions of “state secrecy” in order to block courts from adjudicating Bush crimes to suppressing torture photos on the ground that “opennees will empower terrorists” to the overarching Obama dictate that we “simply move on.”  Could she have described any more perfectly what Obama would end up doing when she wrote, in March, 2008, what the next President “must not do”? […]

I don’t know why her nomination was left to die, but I do know that her beliefs are quite antithetical to what this administration is doing.

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Finally, Obama makes recess appointments

After months of obstruction by Senate Republicans, the White House announced on March 27 that President Barack Obama is appointing 15 nominees while Congress is in recess:

“The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees.  But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis,”  said President Barack Obama. “Most of the men and women whose appointments I am announcing today were approved by Senate committees months ago, yet still await a vote of the Senate.  At a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the Department of Treasury have been held up for nearly six months. I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government.”

Following their appointment, these nominees will remain in the Senate for confirmation.

Obama Administration appointees have faced an unprecedented level of obstruction in the Senate.

   * President Obama currently has a total of 217 nominees pending before the Senate.  These nominees have been pending for an average of 101 days, including 34 nominees pending for more than 6 months.

   * The 15 nominees President Obama intends to recess appoint have been pending for an average of 214 days or 7 months for a total of 3204 days or almost 9 years.

   * President Bush had made 15 recess appointments by this point in his presidency, but he was not facing the same level of obstruction.  At this time in 2002, President Bush had only 5 nominees pending on the floor.  By contrast, President Obama has 77 nominees currently pending on the floor, 58 of whom have been waiting for over two weeks and 44 of those have been waiting more than a month.

I put the full list of recess appointees with their bios after the jump. In the good news column, Obama named Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. Unfortunately, he also named pesticide and biotech lobbyist Islam A. Siddiqui as the U.S. Trade Representative’s Chief Agricultural Negotiator. More than 100 organizations opposed Siddiqui’s nomination “as a textbook case of the ‘revolving door’ between industry and the government agencies meant to keep watch.”

Also bad news: Obama did not use his recess appointment power to name Dawn Johnsen as head of the Office of Legal Counsel. I thought she had already been confirmed, because in January it became clear that there were 60 senators supporting her nomination. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee has repeatedly postponed considering her confirmation, raising questions about whether the Obama administration really wants Johnsen to do this job.

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Obama's "five worst nominees"

Over at the Mother Jones blog, Kate Sheppard, David Corn and Daniel Schulman compiled a list of “Obama’s Five Worst Nominees.” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner doesn’t make the cut, which surprised me until I read the short bios of appointees who are likely to put corporate interests ahead of the public interest. In alphabetical order:

William Lynn, for whom the president made an exception to his policy on lobbyists in government. Lynn was the chief lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon before becoming deputy secretary of defense in the Obama administration.

William Magwood, a “cheerleader for nuclear power” who has “worked for reactor maker Westinghouse and has run two firms that advise companies on nuclear projects.” Obama nominated him for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Scott O’Malia, who was apparently suggested by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. O’Malia “was a lobbyist for Mirant, an Enron-like energy-trading firm” and lobbied for weakening the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, to which Obama appointed him.

Joseph Pizarchik, who helped form policies in Pennsylvania to allow disposal of toxic coal ash in unlined pits. Obama named him director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

Islam Siddiqui, whom Obama appointed to be the chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. trade representative. Jill Richardson has been on this case at La Vida Locavore; see here and here on why Siddiqui is the wrong person for this job.

I wouldn’t suggest that this rogue’s gallery is representative of Obama appointees, but it’s depressing to see any of them in this administration.

In the good news column, Obama has decided to renominate Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, along with five other nominees who didn’t receive a confirmation vote in the Senate last year.

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John Norris confirmed at FERC

Catching up on some news from last week, the Senate confirmed more than 30 of President Obama’s nominees right before Christmas, including Iowa’s own John Norris for a spot on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Norris and his wife Jackie Norris were key early Obama supporters here. After Obama’s inauguration, Norris served as chief of staff for Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, but he always planned to move to the FERC if possible. He is well qualified for the position after spending several years on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Jackie Norris served as chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama for several months before moving to a senior advisor position at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

John Norris’ confirmation was overshadowed by news that the Senate rejected six Obama nominees without even giving them a vote. The most prominent name on that list was Dawn Johnsen, Obama’s choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel. For more on that story, read commentaries by Daniel de Groot at Open Left, bmaz at Firedoglake, and Turkana at the Left Coaster. Senator Ben Nelson helped Senate Republicans stall Johnsen’s nomination in the spring.

UPDATE: Kay Henderson posted Norris’ official bio and some statements reacting to his confirmation at the FERC.

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Chuck Grassley Abuses the Constitution by HIS definition

(Typical Republican hypocrisy on filibusters. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

March 14, 2005 – The New Yorker publishes an article, NUKE ‘EM in which Senator Chuck Grassley is quoted, discussing the purpose of the filibuster:

“Filibusters are designed so that the minority can bring about compromise on legislation,” Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, told Toobin. “But you can’t compromise a Presidential nomination. It’s yes or no. So filibusters on nominations are an abuse of our function under the Constitution to advise and consent.

My husband called Grassley's office today – he read this quote to the aide and asked, “Does Senator Grassley stand by this statement?”

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