Lost in the Sauce: Senate Republicans block, delay, and oppose dozens of nominees

Voting Rights Judge

Senate Republicans have come out in force against Biden’s 2nd Circuit nominee Myrna Pérez. A voting rights advocate who has spent 15 years at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Pérez has dedicated her life to fighting against restrictive voting bills and advocating for a more inclusive society (bio).

Sen. Chuck Grassley focused on an article (link) Perez wrote that the editor titled “The GOP Campaign To Make Elections Less Free,” saying he was upset that it tied the Republican party to voter suppression:

“While the authors typically don’t choose their titles, I have to imagine Ms. Pérez could have gotten Sojourners – which isn’t The New Yorker or The Washington Post – to accommodate a title change that wouldn’t be an insult to half this committee. I’ll also note that this article’s outrageous subtitle, ‘voters are supposed to choose their politicians, not the other way around,’ was written by Ms. Pérez.” (Clip).

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) questioned her view of the Constitution as a “living” document, that can be reinterpreted by judges. Republicans have overwhelmingly confirmed judges who espouse the opposing view, originalism/textualism, which holds that the Constitution must be interpreted based on the original understanding at the time it was adopted.

“I think what you want to do on the federal bench is advance a social agenda, and rewrite the Constitution every other Thursday, to advance a social agenda that you can’t get by the voters through their elected representatives.” (Clip).

Despite repetitively reiterating her commitment to upholding precedent, as appellate judges are meant to do, Republican senators kept questioning Pérez’s honesty:

Marsha Blackburn: I just want to be sure I’m understanding some of the comments that you have made and basically you’re saying as you move to the role of a judge, you would set aside all of your previous opinions.

Pérez: They would not make their way into any courtroom that I was sitting in.

Blackburn: So basically you’re saying you would erase all of this activism from your past?

Pérez: What I’m saying, Senator, is that I would apply the precedent of the Supreme Court…

Blackburn: I get this funny feeling that you’re trying to hedge us. That you’ve rehearsed your answers. That you’re spouting out what you think will not get you into trouble. So that you can go through the confirmation process and then do the happy dance and get on the court. And then go back to your activist ways. That is what’s coming across, ma’am. That is what I’m perceiving. (Clip).

Sen. Ted Cruz identified the positions that he believes make someone a “radical activist,” while ignoring the fact that the job of being an advocate is different from that of being a judge:

As I look at your career, I see the career of someone who has been an activist – and I believe a radical activist. You have waged litigation campaigns and opposed voter ID laws. You have opposed voter integrity laws. You have opposed prohibitions on ballot harvesting. You have advocated for felons being able to vote. As I look at your record year after year after year of being an extreme partisan advocate, I’m left with the very likely conclusion that if you were confirmed to the bench you would likewise be a radical activist on the bench. (Clip of Cruz and follow-up rebuttal by Sen. Richard Blumenthal).

ATF Nominee

Senate Republicans are hoping that – with the help of lobbyists – centrist Democrats can be convinced to oppose Biden’s ATF nominee, David Chipman. Despite serving as a career ATF official for 25 years, conservatives are strictly opposed to Chipman due to his recent work for a gun control advocacy group. Add in lobbying from the NRA and moderates like Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Jon Tester (D-MT) are still undecided on Chipman’s confirmation.

“The issue is whether he’s the right guy for the job,” King, who caucuses with Democrats, told CNN on Tuesday. “My question is whether he can be an effective director. I haven’t decided yet.”

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) took to the CPAC stage to propose blocking Chipman’s nomination in order to prevent enforcement of existing gun laws:

“This guy’s the most anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment nominee for this position in the history of this country. And so what the Freedom Caucus did — myself and the Freedom Caucus — we have lobbied the Senate to stop that guy. The first thing you’ve got to do is stop the guy that’s going to enforce the laws — and that’s Mr. Chipman.” [emphasis mine]

Donald Trump Jr. has also jumped into the fight, trying to pressure Manchin and Tester in his CPAC speech:

They’re lying to you again about being moderate on the second amendment, right? Look at Chipman. They want to appoint the leader of the ATF… They want to appoint a guy who worked actively for the anti-gun lobby to lead the ATF to infringe on your second amendment rights.

So I want all of you guys to call your Senators, okay? And make sure that this guy doesn’t get confirmed, okay? I want you to speak to your Senators in perhaps purple states, where you have Democratic Senators, that claim to be for the second amendment, like Manchin, like Tester, and ask them, are they going to nominate someone who is going to take your guns away?

Bureau of Land Management Nominee

Republicans are uniting against Biden’s nominee to head the Bureau of Land Management, Tracy Stone-Manning, due to her past involvement with a controversial environmental group. As a graduate student in the 1980s, Stone-Manning was part of Earth First! when some of its members drove metal spikes into trees in an attempt to block a timber sale. Stone-Manning told the Senate that she was not directly involved in the effort and warned the FBI about the plan, even testifying against those who took part (PDF).

However, last week a retired special agent sent the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee a letter (PDF) contradicting Stone-Manning’s version of events, saying she “was the nastiest of the suspects” and only cooperated after being caught. Some of the claims made by this agent have been contradicted by the lead prosecutor on the case, former Assistant U.S. Attorney George Breitsameter, and the ringleader of the tree-spiking operation.

“Having been one of the main participants in that event and one of the main planners, to the best of my recollection she knew nothing about it beforehand,” Mr. Fairchild said, adding that Ms. Stone-Manning was known for opposing violence.

“Tracy was always a moderating voice,” he said. “We were talking about ending the logging of old growth forests, and she was the first one to say ‘Yeah but loggers have families, too.’”

Republicans like Sen. Mike Lee (UT) and John Barrasso (WY) have seized on this incident 30+ years ago to call for the White House to rescind Stone-Manning’s nomination. So far, all 50 Democrats appear to support her.

  • More: Since her time as a graduate student, Stone-Manning has worked as state director for Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), director of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, Chief of Staff to former Governor Steve Bullock, and is currently the senior adviser for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation. Sen. Tester has vociferously defended Stone-Manning against recent attacks, calling them political “smears.”

Other Delayed Nominees

Numerous Defense Department nominees are being held up by senators from both parties, each after their own concessions. Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker is objecting to Susanna Blume’s nomination (to run the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office) to pressure the Navy to buy more amphibious ships. It just so happens the company that would build such ships is located in Mississippi.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently lifted a hold on Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, after getting him to agree to a four-year ethics pledge and defense industry job recusal. However, Michigan Democratic Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow placed a hold on Kendall hours later over the military’s decision to house an important training center in Arkansas instead of Michigan.

“We’re still getting information right now,” Peters said. “We’re meeting with the Air Force to get a better understanding of how that decision was made because, based on the facts as I review them, Selfridge was clearly the best place to locate that mission, and I need more clarification from the Air Force as to how they arrived at what I think was an erroneous decision.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) also has a hold on Kendall, for an unknown reason.

Dozens of State Department nominees are also being delayed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) over his objection to the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline. In all, about 60 diplomatic nominees have been held up for weeks, leading to worries that vacancies will start to impact the implementation of Biden’s foreign policy.

Normally, a quick unanimous consent call would allow their confirmation to proceed to the Senate floor. Cruz promising to object to each instance, however, sets up a time-consuming roll call for each and every nominee, slowing down the Senate and halting other priorities like infrastructure and other nominees.

IRS Enforcement

High profile and well-funded conservative groups successfully lobbied Senate Republicans to oppose increased IRS funding in the bipartisan infrastructure package. The plan’s original framework, which won White House support, included approximately $40 billion in additional funding to boost enforcement of tax laws and crack down on tax evasion. Groups like the Coalition to Protect American Workers, founded by Trump aide Marc Short, and the libertarian nonprofit FreedomWorks (funded in large part by the Koch brothers), have united in opposition.

Last week, these conservative groups saw their work come to fruition when Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announced the IRS funding is officially cut from the bipartisan package. The $140 billion that the measure was estimated to generate is now a gaping hole in the bill that must be filled. It is likely that Democrats will instead include the IRS boost in their reconciliation bill.

To be sure, many politicians who oppose increased IRS enforcement are doing so at the behest of wealthy donors. Some are also upset with the recent leak that resulted in a ProPublica report called “The Secret IRS Files,” laying out how wealthy Americans “exploit the structure of our tax code to avoid the tax burdens borne by ordinary citizens.” According to the Washington Post, conservatives blame IRS officials for leaking the documents.

Medicare Drug Pricing

Centrist Democrats are threatening to block the reconciliation infrastructure bill if it contains a popular Medicare drug price negotiation provision, despite vulnerable Democrats’ request that it be included. Reps. Scott Peters (D-CA), Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Lou Correa (D-CA), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), Frank Mrvan (D-IN), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), and Tony Cardenas (D-CA) signed onto a letter arguing that the private sector (i.e. pharmaceutical companies) must be respected and be included in any healthcare legislation.

As HuffPost points out, the Democrats supporting the Medicare provision represent districts with a Cook Partisan Voter Index score of R +1. In contrast, the Democrats opposing its inclusion represent districts with an average PVI of D +9.

Money in Politics

Wisconsin Democrats filed an FEC complaint against Republican House candidate Derrick Van Orden for allegedly using campaign funds to travel to D.C. on Jan. 6, when he was photographed inside a restricted area on Capitol grounds.

Salon: “Rep. Pat Fallon, a first-term Republican from Texas, sold a large block of Microsoft stock just two weeks before the Pentagon announced it was scrapping a cloud computing deal with the company valued at up to $10 billion over the next decade, according to financial disclosure reports.”

  • Reminder: Earlier this year, Fallon violated House ethics rules when he didn’t disclose stock trades worth between $7.8 million and $17.53 million until months after the deadline.

The Hill: “Defense contractors are ramping up PAC donations to Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, with funds flowing to lawmakers on committees that wield control over Pentagon spending.”

Daily Beast: “At least a dozen corporate PACs that paused political contributions after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol have resumed giving money to officials who objected to the results of the 2020 presidential election…Notable companies also include UPS, Ford, General Motors, and multinational law firm McGuireWoods.”

CREW: “…in early January, Toyota told Popular Information in a statement that “given recent events and the horrific attack on the U.S. Capitol, we are assessing our future PAC criteria.” Yet, its PAC started giving again less than a month later and has now given more than $50,000 to 35 [GOP objectors this year].”