Thursday afternoon, Republicans filibustered two of President Obama’s nominees: one to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the other to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most important courts in the country.
An ordinary observer might look at this and assume there was a problem with the nominees. Were they too extreme? Not qualified? Unprepared for the tasks ahead of them? In this case, not at all. Instead, it’s just another chapter in the GOP’s long effort to gum up the works and disrupt the White House through abuse of the filibuster, an otherwise extraordinary measure that has become a routine part of governance in the age of GOP extremism.
North Carolina Representative Mel Watt—President Obama’s nominee to the FHFA—is a long-time member of Congress with twenty years on the House Financial Services Committee. It’s fair to disagree with his priorities as a lawmaker and potential regulator, but there’s no question he’s qualified for the position. To wit, this week, a large coalition of civil rights groups endorsed Watt, praising him for his “long history of standing up for working families, promoting safe and affordable housing, speaking out against predatory lending, and advocating for keeping homeowners in their homes.”
Republicans don’t have a specific complaint with Watt, and haven’t questioned his ability to do the job. Their only issue, it seems, is that Watt is the Democratic nominee of a Democratic president. Indeed, Republicans would prefer that Obama stuck with the acting FHFA director, Edward DeMarco, who entered the agency as an appointee of George W. Bush. “We’ve spent so much time at the White House prior to them naming a nominee asking them to please not appoint a politician, please appoint a technocrat,” said Tennessee Republican Bob Corker in aninterview with Bloomberg. “To have a politician in that position, to me is inappropriate.”
The problem for Corker and his colleagues is that the Constitution doesn’t outline requirements for presidential appointees. Obama can choose whomever he likes; the Senate’s job is to offer its advice and consent, which they’ve declined, in favor of unprecedented obstruction. Watt is the first sitting member of Congress to be blocked for an appointment since 1843.
Patricia Millett is the other qualified nominee to face partisan obstruction from Senate Republicans. Nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, she’s worked in Democratic and Republican administrations, argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court, and has wide support from the legal community. She was even praised by Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz for her “fine professional qualifications.”
But, like Watt, Millett is the Democratic nominee of a Democratic president. What’s more, the D.C. Court of Appeals is one of the most powerful in the country, a place which litigates critical issues like the Affordable Care Act. At the moment, the D.C. Circuit has a conservative majority, which Republicans want to preserve by maintaining the three-seat vacancy. And for good reason: Conservative judges on the court have overturned Environmental Protection Agency regulations, denied recess appointment power to the president—a huge blow to his ability to staff the executive branch, and one that gives even more power to Republican obstruction—and issued a series of pro-corporate rulings.
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