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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What Should Obama Learn from Richard Shelby's Game of "Alabama Hold 'Em"?

In a perverse way, you have to give credit to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) for placing a blanket hold on more than 70 pending nominations from the Obama Administration. In the wake of announcing yesterday that he was releasing most of the holds, Shelby essentially admitted that he's a political extortionist. You have to admire a guy for that kind of honesty.

But here's what is not admirable about Shelby--and the Obama administration should keep this in mind going forward. Shelby's "Alabama hold 'em" gambit tells us that he is not serious about his objections on presidential nominees. In other words, there is no reason to think Shelby has legitimate grounds for objecting to any nominee. So Obama should move forward like a steamroller, challenging Shelby to hold his ground or dive out of the way.

Consider the sensitive U.S. attorney position in the Middle District of Alabama, site of the Don Siegelman prosecution. Joseph Van Heest, a highly regarded attorney from Montgomery, was ready for confirmation and could have been on the job months ago. But Shelby apparently objected, and the Obama administration decided not to fight for Van Heest's nomination.

That has caused George W. Bush appointee Leura Canary to remain in place, more than a year into the Obama administration. At last report, the White House was on the verge of nominating Montgomery lawyer George Beck, whose firm has strong ties to Karl Rove and Business Council of Alabama President Bill Canary. The possibility of a Beck nomination has drawn heavy fire from Alabama progressives.

After dropping his blanket hold on Obama nominees, Shelby tried to claim victory, stating that the tactic had accomplished his goal of drawing White House attention to two federal projects that could bring billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to Alabama. But The Washington Post reported:

The White House said that it agreed to none of Shelby's demands, and that the senator released the holds on his own accord.

The truth? Shelby's blanket hold probably accomplished nothing, and he released it because of the flood of criticism he had received--and the embarrassment he was causing for the Republican Party.

What should Obama do now? He needs to immediately address the U.S. attorney position in Montgomery. He should assume that Shelby has no legitimate grounds for voicing an objection and move forward with the nomination of Joseph Van Heest.

Leura Canary's ongoing presence as head of the Middle District of Alabama remains an embarrassment for the Obama Justice Department. The DOJ needs to show her the door pronto and allow Van Heest to start the arduous task of cleaning up the cesspool in Montgomery--starting with an investigation of Sen. Shelby's financial ties to Doss Aviation.

That's the the Colorado-based company that is partially owned by Mark Fuller, the federal judge who handled the Siegelman case. Shelby's alleged ties to that company are probably the No. 1 reason he wants to make sure a competent federal prosecutor is not placed in Montgomery, Alabama.

After Shelby's most recent stunt, Obama needs to make sure that he appoints an Alabama prosecutor with the disposition of a wolverine--one who has eyes for Richard Shelby's rear end.

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