Alabama Senator Shelby Backs Down From Blocking Obama’s Nominees

Alabama Senator Shelby Backs Down From Blocking Obama

An Alabama Senator with long-standing ties to the US military-industrial complex and an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama is backing down from a direct confrontation with the White House today after taking the unprecedented step of announcing last week that he would filibuster all the president’s appointments to secure earmarks for his home state.

US Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who switched from the Democratic Party to be part of the Gingrich revolution in 1994, placed a hold on more than 80 presidential nominations before the Senate last week. He relented on Monday, according to ABC News, saying he had simply been trying “to get the White House’s attention.”

Shelby’s spokesman John Graffeo denied national reports that Shelby was playing politics to force the White House to approve “earmarks” in his home state, and claimed the purpose of placing the holds was to “get the White House’s attention on two issues that are critical to our national security – the Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker acquisition and the FBI’s Terrorist Device Analytical Center.”

Shelby has been trying to get a new FBI crime lab opened in Alabama, and he has been trying for months to strong arm the Air Force into reversing a legitimate bid of $35 billion as part of a $100 billion contract granted to Boeing to build refueling tankers for the military. Shelby wanted the contract to go to Northrop Grumman/EADs, a company which has given heavily to finance his campaigns and would have assembled the tankers in his home state.

According to Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for Center for Responsive Politics, campaign finance research indicated that Shelby has a close relationship with the defense industry, to put it mildly.

“During the past 20 years, the defense aerospace, defense electronics and miscellaneous defense industries all rank among his top 15 campaign donors by industry,” Levinthal said. “Together, employees and political action committees associated with these industries have contributed more than $1.2 million to Sen. Shelby.”

According to files publicly available at OpenSecrets.Org, Shelby is backed by not only the military-industrial complex, but also by the big banks, which benefit from Shelby’s support for deregulation on the powerful Senate Banking Committee. He is also heavily supported by power companies, coal companies, telecommunication giants such as AT&T and the big insurance companies which obtained billions of dollars in government bailout money under both the Bush and Obama administrations.

White House Press Secretary Roberts Gibbs on Friday called Shelby’s actions a perfect example of what is wrong with Washington politics, something the president vowed in his campaign to try to change.

“I guess 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 work better because he didn’t get his earmarks,” Gibbs said. “If that’s not the poster child for how this town needs to change the way it works, I fear there won’t be a greater example of silliness throughout the entire year of 2010.”

There are at least 80 presidential nominations hanging in the balance, including the undersecretary of defense for military readiness and top officials at the Departments of State and Homeland Security, as well as key US attorney appointments at the Department of Justice.

Of most interest to the people in Alabama is the position of US attorney Leura Canary in Montgomery, the wife of a former close ally of former Bush political aide Karl Rove, who brought a controversial political prosecution against former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman. A House Judiciary Committee report concluded that prosecution was blatantly political, and recommended the White House not keep Canary in her job there.

But the White House has yet to name a replacement, in part because Shelby and the other conservative Republican senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions, have blocked name after name submitted for the post.

Birmingham Congressman Artur Davis, who has mostly relinquished his duties in Washington to run for governor, recently recommended Montgomery lawyer George Beck for the post. But he has not been named, ostensibly since criticism surfaced from a whistleblower in the Siegelman case. According to attorney Jill Simpson, who testified before Congress in the case, Beck’s law firm has strong ties to Rove and conservative Business Council of Alabama President Bill Canary.

Shelby also held up the appointment of former public defender Joseph Van Heest, who was the choice of a special committee put together by Davis to recommend judicial appointments to the Obama administration. Sessions then blocked two other potential nominees, Michel Nicrosi and George Beck, for reasons that have still not been made publicly clear.

The Obama administration is reportedly searching for candidates who would not face controversial confirmation hearings in the US Senate. But sources in the state’s legal and political community say the administration needs to get on with the business of replacing Canary, even if that means appointing someone from out of state.

Shelby has been critical of Obama since his election, even publicly joining the so-called “birther” movement at a town hall meeting in Cullman at one point, entertaining rumors questioning the president’s citizenship.

When asked by a local resident if there was any truth to a rumor that appeared during the presidential campaign concerning Obama’s US citizenship, Shelby was quoted as saying: “Well, his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any birth certificate. You have to be born in America to be president.”

According to The Associated Press and other major news outlets, state officials in Hawaii checked health department records during the campaign and determined there was no doubt Obama was born in Hawaii, the 50th state. But pandering to right-wing paranoia from the likes of the birthers and the so-called Tea Party movement has never hurt a politician yet in a conservative state like Alabama.