President Barack Obama today bemoaned the length of time that some of his nominees are waiting for votes in the U.S. Senate, raising the issue just as senators prepare to return to Washington.
“I’ve got people who have been waiting for six months to get confirmed, who nobody has an official objection to and who were voted out of committee unanimously, and I can’t get a vote on them,” Obama said as part of a wide-ranging news conference at the White House. Senators return from their late-summer break on Monday.
Obama last raised the issue of stalled nominations in a statement in July. He did so today in response to a question about potential Senate opposition to Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law School professor who is under consideration to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Obama said he has spoken to Warren about a possible nomination, but he dismissed the idea that Senate opposition would be unique to her.
“We’ve got judges who are pending. We’ve got people who are waiting to help us on critical issues like homeland security,” he said. “And it’s very hard when you’ve got a determined minority in the Senate that insists on a 60-vote filibuster on every single person.”
Republicans have attempted formal filibusters rarely, succeeding in the case of Craig Becker, a nominee for the National Labor Relations Board, and failing in the case of Judge David Hamilton, now on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Some nominees have been confirmed relatively quickly, while others have waited months before eventually winning unanimous confirmation.
GOP senators say they have treated Obama’s nominees better than Democrats treated President George W. Bush’s nominees, and that Democrats should take some blame for those nominees who have stalled because they have prioritized legislative goals like health-care.
Also at the news conference, a reporter asked Obama whether he can commit to winning legislative approval of two settlements that would end major discrimination claims against the federal government: the Cobell and Pigford II settlements. The Cobell claims relate to unpaid royalties from natural resource extraction on American Indian lands, while the Pigford claims relate to disparate treatment for black farmers in U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.
Obama did not make a commitment, but he said he would try. “It is a fair settlement. It is a just settlement,” Obama said, appearing to conflate the two settlements. “We think it’s important for Congress to fund that settlement, and we’re going to continue to make it a priority.”
The lead lawyer for plaintiffs in the Cobell litigation has accused the White House of not making the settlement a priority.
Obama again said he wants to be flexible when another reporter asked when the government would put accused 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial. Six months ago, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said a decision on venue was “weeks away,” not “months,” but Obama gave no hint that a decision is any closer.
“I think it needs to happen,” Obama said today. “We’re going to work with members of Congress” — who hold the strings for funding — “and this is going to have to be on a bipartisan basis, to move this forward in a way that is consistent with our standards of due process, consistent with our Constitution, consistent also with our image in the world of a country that cares about rule of law.”
Updated 9/13 with more details on nominees.