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Thursday, January 27

Advice and Consent  

I'd like to use this post by New Donkey to expand on the concept of "advice and consent" a little more generally. ND notes at the beginning of his post, "I generally think presidents, even those I really dislike, should have significant leeway on cabinet appointments." His opinion is the one that is generally held by most politically active people. The post is about why the current case of Alberto Gonzalez is one in which he doesn't support confirmation. Now if I was a senator I would vote against Gonzalez on principle. That is, I am against torture in principle. The specific caveat to this principle is the "terrorist with a nuclear bomb" scenario. But that is a very specific and rare (almost to the point of non-existence) scenario. I would also vote against Gonzalez on the grounds of his relevant experience and overall competence. Gonzalez (and Rice for that matter) are fairly simple cases of being totally unqualified for the positions for which they've been nominated and only the saddest political hacks would vote to confirm.

Those are these specific cases, though, and I think senators should generally take a much tougher stance on cabinet appointments than they do. Presidents should have leeway, yes, but not so much that they can just install any crony or fool (or combination) they choose. As ND puts it:

It's a familiar argument, but worth repeating: the AG is not just the president's top lawyer, and not just head of a cabinet agency; he or she is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, supervising a vast array of prosecutors, investigators, and specialty cops. The AG has enormous power to help or hinder the pursuit of justice in this country, every single day. Sure, every AG reports to the president, but I cannot remember an AG nominee who is simultaneously so ill-equipped to show independence from, and influence in, the White House (Bobby Kennedy was obviously not independent from his brother, but he sure as hell wielded a lot of influence with him).

ND's description of the position of AG is dead on, but it is also true of almost all of the other cabinet and many non-cabinet positions. This is, after all, the reason the Senate as a body is given the power to veto nominations. Since these positions affect the broader nation as a whole, these Secretaries must be acceptable to a majority of the people's representatives. And no, just because the majority votes for a candidate, it does not mean that they by proxy approve of every nomination said candidate puts forward.

Does the Secretary of the Treasury have any less a significant role in the US economy than does the AG in the justice system? I would wager that he has a greater relative influence. Secretary of Defense? Homeland Security? And yet for some reason, these secretaries are allowed to pass through, no matter how embarassingly unqualified, no matter how much ruin they bring upon the nation, in the name of presidential leeway. Unless, of course, they hired an illegal immigrant to do chores around their house.

In the case of the current balance of power in the Senate, we know that all nominations are on the fast track to confirmation anyway, so there's absolutely no reason for a Dem senator to vote in favor of a single nominee about whom they have even the slightest reservation. In the case of both Gonzalez and Rice, filibusters are definitely in order. US Senators have some of the best job security in the nation. Wouldn't it be nice if they acted like it?



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