Senate Rules Could Leave Executive Positions in Limbo

Here’s a scary thought: At a time when American leadership is a fundamental necessity at home and abroad, can you imagine the United States without a Secretary of Defense or a Secretary of State?

Rumors are swirling that United Nations Ambassador Dr. Susan Rice might be in line to take over for the retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Also, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could be tapped to take over the retiring Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

If they are chosen, all that’s left is the Senate confirmation process, right?

Well, easier said than done.

The way that outdated Senate rules have been hampering the confirmation processes in the past, we might be in for a long haul.

In January, for example, after a majority of Democrats in the Senate approved Richard Cordray to head up the newly-created Consumer Protection Bureau, a minority of Republicans hid behind the filibuster to block his nomination.

President Barack Obama had to issue a recess appointment to make sure the CPB had the leadership it needs to do its work.

“I am not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people we were elected to serve,” Obama said at the time.

Judicial nominations are so backed up that before the Senate left for recess in November, 19 nominees were left waiting to be appointed. While they waited, previously appointed judges were handling twice their caseload.

If this doesn’t speak volumes about how the minority can manipulate Senate rules to obstruct or delay, it’s only going to get worse with the coming appointments.