The way in which some senators are abusing the chamber’s informal rules on “procedural holds” is clearly getting out of hand. Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, for example, has imposed a blockade against U.S. military promotions, as part of a tantrum over abortion policy. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is standing in the way of EPA nominees, because he’s upset about how an environmental policy he helped write is being implemented.
And last week, Republican Sen. J.D. Vance announced blanket holds on Justice Department nominees in response to federal prosecutors having the audacity to charge Donald Trump with multiple felonies, just because they have extensive evidence of alleged criminal wrongdoing.
“I think that we have to grind this department to a halt until [Attorney General] Merrick Garland promises to do his job and stop going after his political opponents,” the Ohio freshman declared, indifferent to the fact that (a) Garland is already doing his job; and (b) the attorney general isn’t going after his political opponents.
Yesterday, Vance nevertheless seemed eager anew to justify his tantrum — by pointing to Hunter Biden’s plea agreement. “Any other American would have the book thrown at them. The president’s son gets a slap on the wrist,” the Republican senator wrote on Twitter. “This is exhibit 1,402 for why I’m holding Biden’s DOJ nominees. We have a two-tiered justice system in our country. It’s a disgrace.”
Given the relevant details of the underlying case, none of this made any sense. He apparently didn’t care.
Vance’s antics are, however, starting to generate some attention. The Washington Post’s editorial board, for example, concluded last week, “To decry what he wrongly claims is the politicization of law enforcement, Mr. Vance is, well, politicizing law enforcement.”
The editors added, “Senators in both parties need to respect a president’s right to make appointments. It’s unconscionable to treat the people charged with keeping us safe, whether career prosecutors or generals, as pawns in partisan fights.”
Writing in The New York Times today, columnist David Firestone agreed and helped highlight the stakes.
… Mr. Vance must know the Justice Department will never withdraw the indictment of Mr. Trump, so his blockade of the department’s promotions and executive hires could go on indefinitely, no doubt pleasing Mr. Trump and his supporters. Preventing new federal prosecutors from taking their jobs, however, will eventually have a serious effect on the government’s ability to fight federal crimes and should alarm anyone who cares about the rule of law.
When I wrote about this last week, I heard from a handful of readers who pushed back against the idea that “holds” matter: All they do, critics said, is require senators to jump through some procedural hoops ahead of a confirmation vote, by standing in the way of the usual “unanimous consent” steps that allow the institution to function. It’s not as if individual senators can block nominees indefinitely, right?
It’s not quite that simple. As the aforementioned Post editorial explained, “Holds cannot ultimately stop confirmations, but breaking through them requires significant and valuable Senate floor time — typically two or three days per nomination.”
Given the number of nominees conservative senators are now holding up, we’re talking about a confirmation process that should take hours, but which would instead take several months.
The obvious solution would be for senators to be more responsible, but if that’s not going to happen, and consequential abuses are going to become more common, it’s apparently time for a larger conversation about reforming the way the chamber does business.
The Hill reported that some Senate Democrats “say they’re ready to take another look at rules reform.” It’s an effort worth watching.
Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”