Eric Holder leaves the Obama administration with an approval rating of only 26 percent, according to a new YouGov poll. 37 percent disapprove of Holder’s performance.
It could have been worse. When Eric Shinseki stepped down as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, only 18 percent approved of his shambolic performance, compared to 40 percent who disapproved. Kathleen Sebelius was just as severely underwater (19 percent approval; 41 percent disapproval).
Who will Obama select to replace Holder? The latest speculation seems to be that he will select a U.S. Senator. Why? Because the Senate normally confirms Senators.
But I agree with Roll Call’s David Hawkings that ease of confirmation will not be the key factor in Obama’s decision. Holder is the darling of his leftist base, and Obama’s priority will be to find a replacement who will please the left. He will likely see this as all the more imperative now that the two other most visible cabinet members — John Kerry and Chuck Hagel — are helping to wage war (if you can our efforts against ISIS war).
With the filibuster eliminated for cabinet nominees, Obama can probably confirm nearly anyone he likes during the lame duck period, when Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Kay Hagan, and the like can once again vote their liberal conscience.
What does this mean for the prospects that Obama will nominate a Senator? The three most prominently mentioned are Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Would any of these three appease the Democratic left? It’s hard for me to say. From where I sit, Whitehouse and Blumenthal are strident kool aid drinkers. But I’m not a leftist.
Obama will not want to jeopardize Democratic control of the Senate. Nominating Klobuchar would not be problematic from this point of view. Gov. Mark Dayton would appoint a suitably liberal replacement who would serve for two years.
However, in Rhode Island, the governor lacks appointment power, so Whitehouse’s seat would remain vacant probably until next spring, well after the new Senate is formed. And in Connecticut, an appointee’s term would expire after 32 weeks.
The only constraint on Obama’s ability to select a hard left successor to Holder is the November election. Obama presumably will not want to generate controversy before then. Doing so would only highlight the link between his unpopular administration and the Senate, at a time when key Democratic incumbents are trying to downplay the connection.
Obama could wait until the day after the election to make his selection. But this would limit the amount of time available in which to ram the nominee through.
The list of non-Senators Obama might select includes former White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and Solicitor General Donald M. Verrilli Jr. Neither, however, is likely to excite the left.
Thus, Obama might look to the likes of Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, who would become the first African-American woman to run the Justice Department; Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Dinesh D’Souza, who would be the first Indian-American member of the Cabinet; or Jenny Durkan, the former U.S. Attorney in Seattle, who would be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary.
Tom Perez and Jeh Johnson, a pair of reliable leftists and Obamaites, are already in the cabinet, but should not completely be ruled out.
Any new Attorney General will probably enjoy a grace period simply by virtue of not being Eric Holder. But I hope the grace period will not be long. After all, Holder was a great favorite of Obama, and we can thus expect his successor to continue marching down the same lawless path.