Depending on how you look at it, this is either beyond belief, or utterly unsurprising:
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has put an extraordinary “blanket hold” on at least 70 nominations President Obama has sent to the Senate, according to multiple reports this evening. The hold means no nominations can move forward unless Senate Democrats can secure a 60-member cloture vote to break it, or until Shelby lifts the hold.
“While holds are frequent,” CongressDaily‘s Dan Friedman and Megan Scully report (sub. req.), “Senate aides said a blanket hold represents a far more aggressive use of the power than is normal.” The magazine reported aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were the source of the news about Shelby’s blanket hold.
Why has Sen. Shelby taken this extraordinary action? Because he is angry that Alabama hasn’t gotten the earmarked funding he set aside for two pork projects in his state:
It all has to do with Alabama-based defense contracts.
First and foremost is the large ($35 billion, so large does not do the contract justice) government contract to build a new generation of refueling tankers for the air force.
It appeared that Northrop Grumman and an international partner EADS had won the contract several years ago. Alabama would have benefited because it has plants in Alabama. But the prospect of the tankers being built by a foreign company sent lawmakers representing states with facilities for EADS competitor Boeing, like Washington and Missouri.
Shelby is holding up the nominees because he wants more assurances that the contracting process will be “transparent and fair.”
He’s also frustrated that an FBI explosives lab planned for Huntsville, Alabama, and appropriated for with $45 million in 2007, hasn’t been built yet.
The initial Republican response is quite telling:
A McConnell spokesman at first questioned the legitimacy of the Shelby story, asking if the Alabama senator had confirmed the holds.
“Sen. Shelby’s office will comment on his holds,” the spokesman said.
I am working on a larger roundup on this story.