A Republican senator on Wednesday rebuffed one last attempt to confirm Deputy Attorney General nominee James Cole before Congress adjourned, underscoring how intense political polarization in the Senate is now gumming up even nominations that typically glide through on a fast track.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) objected to a motion from Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) for unanimous consent to confirm Cole, who was nominated to be the department’s day-to-day top manager. The Senate then sent his nomination back to the White House, because the chamber did not confirm him before it adjourned sine die.
President Barack Obama now must re-nominate Cole if he wants the Senate to consider his nomination in the next Congress, which convenes in January.
Democrats pushed hard this month to confirm Cole, arguing that it’s dangerous to national security to leave the Justice Department’s No. 2 position unfilled.
A bipartisan group of eight former Deputy Attorney Generals wrote a letter this month to Senate leaders urging confirmation. The letter noted that Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler doesn’t have full authority to sign applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes wire taps to monitor suspected terrorists inside the U.S.
Obama nominated Cole on May 24, and he was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 20 along a party-line vote. The letter from the former Deputy Attorneys General noted that in the past 20 years, 11 DAG nominees were confirmed in an average of 12 days. Cole’s nomination was pending for more than 140 days.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont tried to move Cole’s nomination earlier this month. But Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, objected to a motion from the Democrat to consider nominee, keeping the nomination off the Senate floor.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lamented on the Senate floor last week that a senator was holding up the nominee. But he didn’t name the senator.
But Republicans have centered their concerns on Cole’s work as an independent monitor for insurance giant AIG, which the Federal Reserve bailed out during the 2008 financial industry crisis, and a 2002 article Cole penned endorsing civilian trials for terrorism suspects.
A former DOJ Criminal Division official, Cole said during his nomination hearing in June that he supports the “use [of] all available means” in defense of national security. The nominee, a partner at the law firm of Bryan Cave LLP in D.C., said said he backs recent changes in military commissions that now make commissions a more viable option than in 2002.
Cole also served as the House ethics committee special counsel who probed then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in the 1990s for the misuse of tax-exempt organizations for political purposes. The House issued a rare formal reprimand against Gingrich and demanded he pay a $300,000 penalty.
The last presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed DAG was David Ogden, who stepped down in February. Grindler has served as acting DAG since Ogden’s resignation.