Obama’s Appointments: Inept or Deliberate Strategy?

A reader wrote back in early January with speculation that many of Obama’s dubious prospective appointments—Rice for state, Lew for treasury, Hagel for defense, and now Todd Jones for ATF—might be part of a deliberate strategy to provoke GOP filibusters such that Harry Reid would have more cover to eliminate the filibuster, notwithstanding the recent small-bore deal between Reid and McConnell.  As Mr. G wrote:

Three obviously partisan picks meant to generate highly publicized, partisan confirmation hearings and opposition from the R’s …  Does this not appear to be a set up for Harry Reid to eliminate the filibuster to ease in radical leftist justices to the Supreme Court?  I can hear Reid now, “We had to eliminate the filibuster on nominations because those awful R’s won’t confirm any of Obama’s picks …”

Hard to know about how Machiavellian Obama might be.  But in pondering this (and preparing for class next week), I had occasion to recur to Federalist 76, where Hamilton discussed the president’s appointment power in relation to the Senate “advise and consent” role through the confirmation process:

It will readily be comprehended, that a man who had himself the sole disposition of offices, would be governed much more by his private inclinations and interests, than when he was bound to submit the propriety of his choice to the discussion and determination of a different and independent body, and that body an entire branch of the legislature. The possibility of rejection would be a strong motive to care in proposing. The danger to his own reputation, and, in the case of an elective magistrate, to his political existence, from betraying a spirit of favoritism, or an unbecoming pursuit of popularity, to the observation of a body whose opinion would have great weight in forming that of the public, could not fail to operate as a barrier to the one and to the other. He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.

It would seem Obama has little shame putting forth nominees who have “no other merit than that of . . . [being] personally allied to him.”  This suggests that Obama, who reportedly seldom talks to members of Congress even from his own party, has little regard for the first branch of government.  It’s one thing to provoke Republicans into furious opposition, but do you really want to make your own party vote for an obvious turkey like Hagel?  If I were Harry Reid I wouldn’t be pleased.

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