GOP's spiteful ploy vs. Holder: Why their confirmation demand is so absurd

Ted Cruz and co. don't want to confirm an AG until next year -- but wait till you hear their confused arguments why

Published September 29, 2014 10:58AM (EDT)

Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul                                      (Reuters/Lucas Jackson/AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta/photo montage by Salon)
Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul (Reuters/Lucas Jackson/AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta/photo montage by Salon)

If the Republicans take control of the United States Senate this November, and Attorney General Eric Holder means it when he says he'll stay on until his successor is confirmed, then Senate Democrats darn well better hold the confirmation hearing and vote in the post-election lame duck session if they wish to grant Holder the courtesy of leaving before 2017. Because America's bicameral legislature is anchored by this geriatric death pit known as the "Senate," a Republican majority in that chamber may mean that no high-profile nomination of President Obama's is confirmed for the final quarter of his presidency. Just out of spite, or for kicks. Y'know.

Sen. Pat Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell yesterday that he's "talked with the White House and hope that they would be able to decide on a nomination soon," adding that "we should have confirmation hearings as quickly as possible in the Senate." So Pat Leahy gets it: good. And yes, President Obama should get on with the business of nominating a replacement promptly. The Washington Post has a list of names that the White House is looking at -- a lot of U.S. attorneys, some more audacious than others.

And right on cue, we have Senate Republicans emerging to argue that holding the confirmation process during the lame duck session would be a stain on the republic. "Rather than rush a nominee through the Senate in a lame-duck session," Sen. Chuck Grassley explained, "I hope the president will now take his time to nominate a qualified individual who can start fresh relationships with Congress so that we can solve the problems facing our country." What a statesmanlike means of saying, but I wanna do it when I'm running the Senate Judiciary Committee!

You're never going to believe this, but Sen. Ted Cruz also had a strong opinion on the matter. Wow, huh? He's usually such a quiet backbencher, just attending to the needs of his constituents and keeping his distance from the media flashbulbs:

To ensure that justice is served and that the Attorney General is not simply replaced with another extreme partisan who will likewise disregard the law, the Senate should wait until the new Congress is sworn in before confirming the next Attorney General. Allowing Democratic senators, many of whom will likely have just been defeated at the polls, to confirm Holder’s successor would be an abuse of power that should not be countenanced.

Between Grassley and Cruz's statements, we have two objections likely to ripple through the rest of the Senate Republican conference: that there's not enough time in the lame duck for the confirmation process, and that granting the (potentially) outgoing Senate Democratic majority the opportunity to confirm Holder's successor would be, in Cruz's stirring rhetoric, "an abuse of power that should not be countenanced."

Whenever members of Congress use time constraints as an excuse for inaction, one wonders if they're using a different calendar than everyone else. My calendar, for example, shows that there are a full three months remaining in 2014. I'm pretty sure that mine is the standard 12-month, 365-day calendar that everyone uses for official business. (Religious calendars may vary.) Maybe they sell calendars in the Capitol gift shop that have like four total days in each year or something? It's just weird that a person like Chuck Grassley would see three vacant months ahead and fear that using that time to confirm a nominee would be "rushing" the process.

Here's a preliminary schedule: President Obama names his nominee within the next couple of weeks; the nominee spends the window of time between then and Election Day introducing him or herself to members of the Judiciary Committee while the FBI finishes its vetting; confirmation hearings are held two weeks after Election Day; the committee and full Senate vote on the nomination sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That doesn't seem like a rush job.

As for the "abuse of power that should not be countenanced." Scratchin' my head here and genuinely can't come up with the legal transgression Sen. Cruz is alluding to. As Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog explains, the Constitution is pretty clear that senators are to serve "for six years." The word "six" doesn't seem to be open to much of a strict/loose constructionist debate. If you're a senator who took office in January 2009, then your six-year term would expire in January 2015.

But, again, maybe their calendars are different from ours.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell

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Attorney General Chuck Grassley Confirmation Hearings Editor's Picks Eric Holder Gop Lame Duck Senate Ted Cruz