Cornyn Says He’ll Block Nominees Who Skip GOP Screening Process
By Mary Jacoby | July 21, 2009 7:12 pm

Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison are moving serenely forward with their own U.S. Attorney selection process, ignoring the red-faced Texas House Democrats who’ve been screaming that they’re in charge of the recommendations.

As they did during the Bush administration, Hutchison and Cornyn assembled a screening committee to select finalists for U.S. Attorney, marshal and judicial vacancies. The fact that a Democrat now sits in the White House didn’t concern them. “The fact is, it’s the Senate’s prerogative who will go forward,” Cornyn told me in a hallway interview in the Capitol today.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (gov)

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (gov)

This attitude has caused Texas Democrats, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, to go ballistic. In March, the Democrats convened an anguished meeting with White House counsel Greg Craig, who’s been trying to mediate the dispute, though not very successfully. Click here and here to read our previous coverage of the dispute. The only concession the GOP senators offered was to add a few Democrats to their screening committee and identify who’s on the panel. In years past, the process had been shrouded in secrecy and run entirely by Republicans.

On Thursday, the screening committee’s recommended finalists for the U.S. Attorney jobs in the Eastern and Northern Districts of Texas are slated to meet with the Texas senators in Washington, Cornyn spokesman Kevin McLaughlin said. He declined to name the finalists. In the Capitol today, I asked Cornyn, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whether his committee was proceeding with approval of Doggett and the Texas Democrats.

“I don’t care if he agrees or not,” Cornyn said, referring to Doggett. “No applicant will go foward who does not go through the screening committee, because I’m not going to return a blue slip on them.” A blue slip is a Senate tradition whereby home-state senators register their approval or disapproval of judicial and and other law-enforcement nominees. To not return a blue slip, or to return a blue slip with a negative mark on it, is a way of signalling to the White House that the senator will object.

President George W. Bush generally ignored blue slips from Democrats. But the Obama White House has been much more solicitous of Republican senators in the nominating process. For example, they’ve let objections from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) stall a U.S. Attorney candidate for the Middle District of Alabama who’s already been vetted and is ready to go. Read our report of the Shelby story here.

We called Doggett’s office for comment Tuesday. We’ll let you know when we hear back.


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