WASHINGTON – Sen. Tammy Duckworth blasted Sen. J.D. Vance on Tuesday for blocking a confirmation vote for April Perry to be the next U.S. attorney in Chicago, while Sen. Dick Durbin is working behind the scenes to find a way to break the hold the Ohio Republican has on her confirmation.
Perry’s nomination was advanced to the Senate floor last week from the Judiciary Committee, but her confirmation vote is in limbo because Vance is blocking Department of Justice nominees to protest the feds going after former President Donald Trump.
Every senator has the ability to put a hold on a nominee. “It is an important tool for senators,” said Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat. But when it goes too far, Duckworth said, it is an abuse of power.
For a brief period in 2020, Duckworth put a hold on senior military promotions until the Pentagon answered her question about whether an officer, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a former National Security Council staffer who was a witness in Trump’s first impeachment, was on a promotion list.
Once the Defense Department told her in writing he was on that list, she lifted the hold. Over and done with in about 12 days.
But Vance, a freshman senator best known as the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” and Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. a former Auburn University football coach, have weaponized holds.
No senator, Duckworth said, “has abused” the hold power of a single senator “the way Tuberville has.”
With many states curtailing access to abortions last February, Tuberville put a hold on all general and flag officer promotions to protest the Pentagon policy of covering travel costs for military members and their dependents seeking medical care.
I talked to Duckworth about the Vance hold on Perry and three other U.S. attorney nominees — including one from his home state of Ohio — after she wrapped up a press conference with other senators outside the Capitol to protest Tuberville’s blockade.
Behind them were more than 300 signs, with the names and photos of the 319 officers whose promotions Tuberville has blocked. The signs were planted by VoteVets, which calls itself “the largest progressive group of veterans in America.”
Usually non-controversial promotions and confirmations for U.S. attorney are approved by a voice vote or by unanimous consent in order to bypass the time consuming process Senate rules mandate for individual votes.
At the press conference, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., estimated that it would take the Senate 103 days to hold those 319 votes. By the end of the year, she said, there will be about 650 promotions in the pipeline, with individual votes taking 200 normal workdays. The Senate would be left with no time to handle other crucial matters.
“The government would stop,” Klobuchar said.
Democrats have been trying to negotiate with Tuberville, but so far, there is no deal.
Vance is a different story because he is not making any demands. He just wants to, as he said, “grind the Department of Justice to a halt.”
Duckworth said Vance “has put himself in a situation where there is no solution.”
She said Republicans need to step up when it comes to Vance and Tuberville.
Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, is mapping strategy to try to ramp up GOP pressure on Vance so Perry and the others can get a vote.
“It’s going to take the Republicans saying, ‘You are hurting my state. You are hurting nominations in my state as well,’ to get to the point that (Vance) would drop the hold,” Duckworth said.
And right now, no Republicans are doing that, making them, Duckworth argues, complicit in this mess. Military promotions are earned — officers expect to be able to advance through the ranks in a system devoid of partisan politics.
Said Duckworth: “I think it’s going to take Republican leadership actually, exercising some leadership over these two senators.”