Senator Lindsey Graham’s vow to bring the Obama administration to a screeching halt over the attacks in Benghazi is turning out to be just a light tap on the brakes.
Last week, the South Carolina Republican renewed his pledge to place a hold on President Obama’s appointments with the exception of two State Department employees. He maintained that he wanted to interview more Benghazi witnesses to ask them about what they saw the night of the attack and would continue to place holds on nominees. However, he appears to have quietly released holds on four more Obama nominees, a fact that bodes well for the most anticipated nomination in Washington — that of Federal Reserve chair nominee Janet Yellen.
The list of newly-confirmed officials includes James Walter Brewster as ambassador to the Dominican Republic, the sixth openly gay ambassador nominated by Obama; Michael Lumpkin, an Assistant Secretary of Defense; Philip Goldberg, ambassador to the Philippines; and Kenneth Mossman, a member of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. The State Department officials he released last week were Anne Patterson, for Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, and Gregory Starr, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security.
When asked if Graham has lifted his hold on any other Obama picks, the senator’s spokespersons did not respond. But the news follows a week of Senate panel testimonies by Yellen and Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security nominee. Graham’s hold on Yellen looms large because lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said that barring his hold, they expect her to be confirmed. (The Senate Banking Committee will vote on Yellen’s nomination on Thursday, which, if approved, will send her nomination to the Senate floor.) Meanwhile, Johnson’s confirmation is also on track in the absence of a hold, with reporters describing his confirmation as "largely friendly."
Graham’s vow to hold the nominations coincided with his viewing of a 60 Minutes report that has now been retracted because its central source lied about his experience the night of the attack on multiple occasions. Last Sunday, CNN’s Candy Crowley asked if the hold still held. "The 60 Minutes story was not true," said Crowley.
"Right," said Graham.
"Will you now end your threat to place a hold on the president’s nominees?" asked Crowley
"No," said Graham. He emphasized the importance of getting to the bottom of when the incident became known as a terrorist attack as opposed to a protest among other questions and how come security failures weren’t known earlier on.
The State Department and White House referred questions about further Graham holds to the senator’s office.
Democratic frustration over GOP holds peaked last week when Senate Republicans blocked a third nominee to a federal appeals court, which prompted threats by Democrats for a rules change to end the maneuver.
It remains unclear if Graham’s apparent relaxation of holds is another one-time gesture or the beginning of a longer release. Graham is facing intense pressure from his right-ward flank in South Carolina and is set to endure four primary challengers next year who all accuse him of the same thing: Being insufficiently conservative. Graham, a veteran lawmaker who has been in Congress since 1995, is coming under fire in particular for previous efforts to work with Democrats. "When a senator consistently gets pulled across the aisle and votes for legislation his Republican colleagues don’t vote for, you begin to question his judgment," a challenger Richard Cash told ABC News last week. "People don’t trust him anymore."