Right-Wing Senators Hog Limelight by Blocking Nominations

Photograph Source: Jamelle Bouie – CC BY 2.0

What better way to throw sand in the gears of government than to prevent it from hiring qualified officials? This is a most effective sabotage. And it’s one the GOP has honed whenever it succumbs to the delirium of opposition, which, nowadays, is always. Currently Republican reptiles do not like Biden’s foreign policy. Granted, it’s not great. But they improve nothing by putting a hold on many, nearly all of his diplomatic appointments.

As of November 27, 56 state department nominees awaited confirmation, with Republicans subjecting many to holds. They do this, of course, in the senate. There one point-man is Texas senator Ted “Cancun” Cruz. He’s the eminence who singlehandedly keeps key state department posts from being filled. And strangely, majority leader Chuck Schumer long did not fight back. The excuse was that valuable time would be wasted.

Now the argument could be made that we, and certainly the rest of the world, are better off without a functioning government in Washington; but we pretty much had exactly that under Trump. So unless we want to pick a path through full-on Weimar disarray to yet another neofascist junta, it would be wise to drop that line of reasoning. Reinforcing this wisdom is covid. Those of us who got vaccinated can thank Biden. If Trump still resided in the white house, vaccines wouldn’t have rolled out yet. They’d be sitting in some warehouse, expired.

So back to the senator from Cancun. What’s Cruz’s rationale? According to the Texas Tribune on October 27, Cruz delays state department nominees to retaliate for Biden dropping U.S. opposition to Nord Stream 2 – the contentious Russian fuel pipeline to Germany. Because what better way to strike back at Russia than crippling the American government? If the logic here escapes you, guess what? You are not alone. But it could be that Cruz is just following the tired old Trump script. “Several times in the Trump administration,” the Tribune wrote, “Congress passed sanctions intended to block the pipeline.”

Now U.S. policy here is a total loser. The pipeline is complete and ready to operate. It will provide gas much more cheaply than the U.S. could. So American assaults on it are, arguably, sour grapes. Furthermore, should Germany dilly dally and make it too difficult for Russia to supply this cheap gas, Russia can always pivot to the voracious Chinese market. So in this fight, Russia holds the winning hand. Biden recognized this and dropped the matter in July, “to improve the relationship between the U.S. and Germany.” But also, maybe, because he thought it odd to ask “Russia to increase its oil exports to reduce the price of oil,” while blocking Russian gas to Europe, as reporter Elijah Magnier tweeted. Anyway, for congressional Trumpsters, Nord Stream 2 remains a bugaboo.

Dem. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut compared Cruz’s hold on nominees to “negotiating with a terrorist. He is not the secretary of state. The people of this country did not elect him or his party to represent us abroad. And what he’s asking for is to control American foreign policy.”

Granted senator Cancun’s obstructionism has competition. At the November 18 discussion of professor and Soviet-born Kazakh-American Saule Omarova’s nomination for comptroller of the currency, one nincompoop, Louisiana senator John Kennedy told her, “I don’t know whether to call you professor or comrade.” I suppose he’ll hold up her nomination until he figures that out, though this may be moot, since centrist Dems beat him to it and bailed on her. But Kennedy’s hold could last a while, because clearly his brain has been pickled in prehistoric, anti-communist brine, and it’s a miracle any of the neurons do what they’re supposed to.

Also in competition to stall Biden’s appointments and paralyze government is none other than Missouri senator Josh “Victory on January 6” Hawley. He has okayed only four of 118 nominations. According to the Kansas City Star on November 21, after the messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Hawley trumpeted his planned embargo “unless Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan resigned.” Since that isn’t happening, Dems work around “Hawley’s blockade by putting nominees up for a roll call vote.” This is time-consuming, but at least they’re coping with Hawley’s truculence.  And that’s life with MAGA fanatics in congress. The Star comments that “Hawley stands out, even compared to other Republicans like Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rick Scott of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. He has not voted to confirm a nominee on the floor since June 15.”

Clearly Hawley has presidential aspirations. Why else make such a screeching spectacle of his reactionary credentials? Well, the Star thinks his oppiliation is “about punishing the Biden administration.” But “it also sends a clear message to his base.” And that’s what this young, extremely ambitious individual, an up-and-coming self-promoter if ever there was one, is all about. That’s why he gave a victory fist pump to the January 6 rioters. The splendid title “president Hawley,” chimes mellifluously in this climber’s ears.

Not to be outdone, Rick “Never Say Climate Change” Scott put a hold “on all Homeland Security Department nominees,” Newsweek reported October 25, “until Vice President Kamala Harris made a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border.” This is something Scott himself did, with much fanfare, back in March. It was not his first such tour. He also did it in February, 2019. Such moves are intended to highlight migrant surges. But I gotta say, if the thought of encountering Rick Scott on the border doesn’t deter migrants from coming here, I don’t know what will.

What all these senators share is a very inflated sense of self-worth. All only too easily picture themselves in the white house. And they think being the blowhard who ostentatiously vetos Biden’s choices will help put them there. Well it won’t. Most Americans don’t care how many under-secretaries of state they block or how many times they thus notch their belts. But there is one American who cares very, very much, and it’s hard to avoid concluding that that’s whom their efforts aim to impress – a certain disgraced former president, currently residing, steaming, fuming over his supposedly stolen crown and vowing revenge, in tropical Mar-A-Lago Florida.

So once again, Trump has taken the government hostage, in a much tinier way perhaps, than he had in mind when he whipped up the crowd and sent it to storm the capitol on January 6, but it’s the thought that counts. No doubt it soothes Trump’s ravenous ego to know that his senatorial imitators are out, about and doing a yeoman’s job of making it hard for government to function. As Cruz, Hawley, Paul and Scott all know, even the little things matter to their very thin-skinned Duce, and thus, in these considerate, small ways, they signal that they can still be of service, while he plots his political reincarnation as president-for-life.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.