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Nuclear Option Backfires: Senate Rejects Obama’s Choice For DOJ Civil Rights Division; Obama Calls It A ‘Travesty’

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Not even a Democrat-led rule change last November, one requiring only a simple majority confirmation vote for executive nominees, was sufficient to clear President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division today.

Crossover votes from Senate Democrats helped the Republican minority carry the day, despite last year’s “nuclear option” rule changes that were supposed to make this sort of thing a cakewalk for the Democratic majority. The Senate voted 47-52 against confirming Obama’s nominee, Debo P. Adegbile, to step into the role left vacant by Thomas Perez’s confirmation as U.S. Secretary of Labor.

Obama was none too happy, calling the down vote “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant” and said that Adegbile, who was once a child actor on “Sesame Street,” had become a victim of “Washington politics.”

Much has been made over Adegbile’s defense of convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for killing Philadelphia cop Daniel Faulkner in 1981, as the basis for Senate Republicans’ strong opposition to his confirmation. Rhetorically speaking, Adegbile’s role in providing Abu-Jamal’s criminal defense was low-hanging fruit for sanctimonious opposition to his nomination — and the threat of populist political repercussion in this election year may, in fact, have helped sway some Democrats to cross over on the confirmation vote.

But the deeper reason for the GOP’s resistance may lie with Adegbile’s record as a defender of the Voting Rights Act, a portion of which the Supreme Court struck down last year. Adegbile has been affiliated with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund from more than 10 years, and keeping some States’ district-drawing sovereignty under the thumb of the Federal government has been a particularly dear passion of his over much of that time.

In all, eight Democrats voted against Adegbile’s confirmation — none more hypocritically (you can’t make this stuff up) than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who saw the writing on the wall and cast the “no” vote so that he might retain the prerogative, under Senate rules, to reconsider the vote. Why he thinks the outcome will be different, after such an embarrassing misfire of his beloved nuclear option, is anybody’s guess.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.