Republican U.S. senators stiffened their opposition today to confirming James Cole as deputy attorney general, adding to a list of reasons they cited last year in blocking a Senate vote on his nomination.
Cole was picked for the Justice Department's No. 2 job in May 2010, but the Senate never voted on his nomination, in large part because of a column Cole wrote for Legal Times in 2002 calling the Sept. 11 attacks “criminal acts” rather than acts of war. In December, President Barack Obama gave him a recess appointment, allowing Cole to serve until late 2011, but Senate confirmation would allow him to serve longer.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he intends to hold the recess appointment against Cole. He said he has been “consistent in my opposition to recess appointments,” especially when he was the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.
“If somebody gets a recess appointment, and their appointment comes up for…reconsideration — no, the president ignored the United States Senate and he shouldn’t have that consideration again,” Grassley said during a Judiciary Committee meeting.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) countered that 21 nominees of President George W. Bush who received recess appointments later got Senate confirmation. In one case, Grassley voted to confirm Alice Fisher, now a Latham & Watkins partner, as an assistant attorney general after Bush appointed her during a congressional recess.
Though the Judiciary Committee gave its backing to Cole on a 10-8, party-line vote, the fight over his nomination will continue on the Senate floor. Grassley said Cole’s 2002 column still troubles him, and Republicans have complained they haven’t had access to records related to Cole’s work as a corporate monitor for American International Group Inc.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said he also has a new reason to oppose Cole: the Obama administration’s decision last month to abandon the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Sessions said the decision cut into his faith in the department’s leadership.
“Law has no more integrity here? Words no longer have meaning?” Sessions asked rhetorically. “It’s beyond dispute that there are successful arguments that have been and could be used to defend DOMA, and should be used again.”
Leahy, in an opening statement, praised Cole’s legal ability. Cole is a former Bryan Cave partner and former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s public integrity section. “He’s demonstrated he understands the issues of crime and national security. They’re at the center of that job,” Leahy said.
On another 10-8 vote, the committee sent to the Senate floor another Obama nominees who’s drawn Republican opposition: federal Magistrate Judge Edward Chen for U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Chen is a former staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California.