Congress on Obama’s Appointees: Good Luck With That

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

If there were a political magic eight ball, with President Barack Obama shaking it to see just how well his presidential appointments would do for the coming months, it’d probably say something along the lines of “Very Doubtful” or “Don’t Count On It.” Obama has been having a difficult time pushing his nominees through Congress, taking a storm of criticism from Republicans on some candidates for a variety of reasons — and recently even seeing his nominees blocked by his own party. This is made even more significant by the time he still has left in office — he could be looking at two more years of blocked or delayed nominations — though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) change to filibuster rules had a significant effect on that.

In 2013 Noah Mamet and Colleen Bell were nominated for U.S. ambassadors to Hungary and Argentina, and both took a lot of heat from Republicans for their Hollywood origins. Bell was a television producer, and Mamet a political strategist, but in general Hollywood and celebrities are often connected to ambassador positions, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Hollywood’s role in campaign funding Obama’s presidential campaign was heavy and could explain John Emerson, LA financial adviser, James Costos, HBO executive, and Rufus Gifford, Davis Entertainment producer, getting pushed though as ambassadors to Germany, Spain, and Denmark respectively.

Does Norway have a president? What strategic interests do we have in Hungary? Is the government of Argentina an ally of the United States?” Unfortunately, President Obama’s ambassadorial nominees for these countries could not answer these basic questions accurately or at all during their confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month,” wrote John McCain in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal back in February. “There is only one reason why the ambassadorial nominees for Norway, Hungary and Argentina were selected for this high honor and huge responsibility … the sole criteria that has gotten these individual nominated is their wealth and their willingness to give large portions of it to President Obama and the Democratic Part.”

Others think the negative reaction may be too severe. “This is the right wing angry about Hollywood,” said Democratic political consultant Rick Taylor to The Hollywood Reporter. ”It’s not life or death. We’re talking about ambassadors who will be required to give a lot of dinner parties. And if anyone knows how to do a good dinner party, it’s Hollywood people.”

The more recent nomination issues have centered around Democrats disaproval, and the Surgeon General Nominee, Vivek Murthy. On the Republican side, nearly all are against him as a pick, but Democrats in the Senate are likely to be against him eight out ten, according to aides’ reports to Politico. “Dr. Murthy, as you know, was approved out of committee with bipartisan support,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. “But after the confirmation vote of Debo Adegbile, we are recalibrating the strategy around Dr. Murthy’s floor vote,” he said, referencing to an appointment failure Obama had with Debo Adegbile.

Adegbile was nominated for head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division in early March, but criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike for his involvement with trying to overturn the death sentence of convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal. He eventually lost March 5 with a vote of 52 to 47. Still, the White House expects Murthy to make it through eventually, according to Carney.

Finally, late last month, executive branch nominees came into question as well — 114 nominees had been waiting around 210 days on average as of March 26 — according to The Washington Post. Still, The Post reports that this isn’t so different from other presidents, as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton only saw a nominee confirmation rate of 77.9 percent compared to Obama’s 76.6 percent. The issue is some may not want to seek executive positions if it means getting stuck in “a living purgatory,” as Max Stier, president and chief executive of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, called it. Stier told The Washington Post that the holdup is “a horrific obstacle course that’s clearly dissuading a lot of first-tier talent.”

Still, that doesn’t mean it’ll be patched up and the cogs oiled anytime soon. “My advice to people is, don’t change your mailing address at this point. The door has pretty much closed on the appointments process, except on some high-profile positions,” said Paul C. Light, New York University public policy professor, to The Washington Post.

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