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Top Obama Latin America nominees still on hold

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, is holding up the nominations of Thomas Shannon to be U.S. ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, a job previously held by Shannon. Valenzuela currently directs the Center for Latin American Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service ...

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, is holding up the nominations of Thomas Shannon to be U.S. ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, a job previously held by Shannon. Valenzuela currently directs the Center for Latin American Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and was a National Security Council staffer during Bill Clinton's second term.

Senators' holds on presidential nominees, it should be noted, only really exist in people's minds. There's no form to fill out, no button to push. When a senator informs congressional leaders he has a "hold" on any of the hundreds of people awaiting Senate confirmation, that's it. The "hold" is just a threat by that Senator to use his regular parliamentary powers to create enough havoc that it forces the leadership, or the administration, to address his concerns.

Most times, the "holds" have nothing to do with the actual nominees themselves, but are simply a chance for a senator to make a policy point, get some information he or she's been seeking, or perhaps eek out some concessions before letting a new appointment go through. In this case, DeMint is engaged in a fight with President Obama over how to react to the sudden removal of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, is holding up the nominations of Thomas Shannon to be U.S. ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, a job previously held by Shannon. Valenzuela currently directs the Center for Latin American Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and was a National Security Council staffer during Bill Clinton’s second term.

Senators’ holds on presidential nominees, it should be noted, only really exist in people’s minds. There’s no form to fill out, no button to push. When a senator informs congressional leaders he has a "hold" on any of the hundreds of people awaiting Senate confirmation, that’s it. The "hold" is just a threat by that Senator to use his regular parliamentary powers to create enough havoc that it forces the leadership, or the administration, to address his concerns.

Most times, the "holds" have nothing to do with the actual nominees themselves, but are simply a chance for a senator to make a policy point, get some information he or she’s been seeking, or perhaps eek out some concessions before letting a new appointment go through. In this case, DeMint is engaged in a fight with President Obama over how to react to the sudden removal of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.

Latin America watchers had been hoping that some progress on Shannon and Valenzuela’s nominations would have been made during the August recess, but apparently not, according to an article today in the The Hill, a congressionally focused Washington newspaper:

Richard Verma, the State Department’s assistant secretary of legislative affairs, approached DeMint this past week about releasing the holds but the South Carolina senator is standing firm.

"Both of these nominees rushed to oppose the rule of law in Honduras and want to force a Chavez-style dictator back into power," DeMint told The Hill. "They exemplify this administration’s misguided and heavy-handed tactics against the Honduran people and side with those who trample freedom."

Facing stiff resistance, Obama administration officials have asked Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.), the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, to intervene, but to little avail so far.

"I’ve been attempting to work with Sen. DeMint to release the holds; we do need to have those officials," said Lugar.

"It’s very important in terms of our overall relations with Latin American countries that we’ve have been attempting to enhance with much more vigorous diplomacy," he added.

DeMint said in an interview that he does not want the standoff over the nominees to erupt into a major confrontation but felt he had to pressure the administration into restoring foreign aid to Honduras.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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