Sen. Richard Shelby and the horrible hold

Sen. Richard Shelby and the horrible hold

The big news in Washington — aside from Snowpocalpyse Part II/#snOMG/Snowmageddon 2/panic caused by relatively common weather — comes from the office of Sen. Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama.

Yesterday, TPM reported, Shelby slapped a hold on all of Obama’s nominees pending in Congress. Every last one. Why? Pork. Shelby is angry that two appropriations — one for an air-to-air refueling program and one for a new FBI lab — haven’t come his state’s way just yet.

The political maneuver and its optics are laughably terrible. On the Hill, everyone is talking about obstructionism, the deficit, and cutting government spending — and yet, Shelby decided to go for the nuclear option on nominees over two pet projects. It’s a gift to Obama, really, and Democrats are taking advantage. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was unsparing in slamming Shelby during today’s press conference.  Democrats will hit this hard for weeks now.

Shelby’s maneuever hypothetically could push Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid to call the Alabama senator’s bluff. Reid could bring the nominees onto the floor and force Republicans to filibuster them. Republicans would have to band together, all 41 of them, to prevent the nominees from being voted upon and confirmed. It would likely be a good political moment for Democrats. But it would cost precious floor time, delaying Obama’s policy agenda further. The whole scenario is highly unlikely, especially because Republican leadership was reportedly not in the loop with Shelby’s drastic plan

And Republicans would likely have objected to it — particularly because of Shelby’s holds on national security nominees. Generally, diplomatic, national security, intelligence, and military appointmees aren’t hit with senatorial holds without good, good reason. But Shelby’s blanket hold, he says, applies to all of the scores of nominees working through the congressional process.

His office released a statement today saying, "Sen. Shelby has placed holds on several pending nominees due to unaddressed national security concerns" — arguing that the projects he wants fast-tracked are vital to the homeland.

This is, well, not true. What is true that the number of security and diplomatic appointees left unconfirmed does no good for the government or the people — a point Reid made on the floor this week, when he bashed senate holds on three intelligence nominees — all highly vetted and entirely non-controversial candidates.