White House blasts Shelby for blocking nominees

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 6, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are criticizing a Republican senator from Alabama for blocking every one of the president’s nominees over spending disputes involving his state.

Sen. Richard Shelby has placed a “hold” on every nomination, which delays the Senate from acting on them. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Friday called the tactic a “poster child” for what’s broken in Washington and said the senator is preventing qualified nominees from serving in important government positions.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Shelby’s move is holding up about 70 appointments, including a critical top Defense Department position overseeing deployments to the war in Afghanistan.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky offered little defense, saying Thursday that he didn’t know much about Shelby’s concerns and that he would try to hash them out “sooner rather than later.”

Senators frequently block individual appointments, but Shelby’s blanket hold is unusual. His spokesman issued a statement about the holds Friday, citing concerns about a contract for an Air Force refueling tanker that could be built in Alabama and a new FBI explosives center that Shelby wants built there. Shelby argues the projects are critical national security priorities.

“He has made the administration aware of these concerns and is willing to discuss them at any time,” the statement says.

A senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Shelby has built his career on steering spending “earmarks” to Alabama.

Shelby can’t single-handedly defeat the nominations. But by forcing time-consuming votes on each one, he can delay them indefinitely.

In his briefing for reporters Friday, Gibbs said, “If you needed one example of what’s wrong with this town, it might be that one senator can hold up 70 qualified individuals to make government better because he didn’t get his earmarks.”