Chutzpah Dep’t

Republicans hold up TSA nomination,then complain about lack of air security.

The kid who murdered his parents and then asked the judge to have mercy on a poor orphan had nothing on the Republicans who are holding up the President’s nominee to run TSA in a fight over unionization but tried to use the latest shoe-bombing attempt to charge that Obama is failing to keep us safe.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

15 thoughts on “Chutzpah Dep’t”

  1. It's the standard Republican MO:

    1. Sabotage all efforts to govern America.

    2. Convince the public everything is the Democrats' fault.

    3. Win elections.

    4. Repeat.

  2. Wow, what a remarkably misleading Post article you've found. Here are the facts:

    –Obama didn't bother to nominate anyone until September.

    –Reid didn't bother to move for confirmation until last week.

    The reason that there's not a confirmed head of TSA is because the Obama administration is incompetent and doesn't care about TSA, and because Reid is an idiot. The idea that we'd all be safer if only last week DeMint hadn't objected to a unanimous consent resolution is unbelievable. The Democrats have demonstrated that they are incapable of governing. The only question is when Mark will admit it.

  3. I would add this to Curmudgeon's #2, before the period: "or that government doesn't work, and then run against government (and, if they win, increase government's power over people's lives, by engaging warrantless surveillance, torturing, limiting abortions, preventing patients from using marijuana, etc.)"

  4. "The reason that there’s not a confirmed head of TSA is because the Obama administration is incompetent and doesn’t care about TSA, and because Reid is an idiot."

    But DeMint has nothing to do with it! Its all the Democrats! See Curmudgeon's #2.

  5. darek, really, DeMint has nothing to do with it. It shouldn't be controversial to request a roll call vote on a nominee, and insisting on a roll call vote isn't some unprecedented innovation of the intransigent Republican minority. If health care "reform" hadn't taken so much of the president's attention and so much of Reid's attention, perhaps this would be resolved by now.

  6. What Thomas says is not the case.

    DeMint wasn't just demanding a roll call. He was (is) threatening to withhold unanimous consent for the Senate to VOTE on the nomination, not unanimous consent to confirm the nominee.

    For a nomination to come up for a vote requires either unanimous consent or 60 votes to invoke cloture. When a Senator puts a "hold" on a nomination, that amounts to a threat to filibuster. The Republicans were persistent in carrying out those threats this year, mounting an all-time record number of filibusters.

    So yes, Harry Reid could have forced a vote on that particular nominee. But doing so would have cost 30 legislative hours. And so would every other nomination where some Senator has decided to throw a tantrum.

    Do the arithmetic: the President appoints several hundred officials needing Senate confirmation. Let's say the number is 400; I'm sure it's more. 400 x 30 hours = 12,000 hours. There are 8760 hours in a year. Under the current rules, a determined minority can make it impossible for a President to govern. The Republican strategy is to do so, and then blame the President for it.

    Fortunately, I doubt that most voters are as gullible as Thomas pretends to be.

    Here's the discussion from the official website.

    HOLD – An informal practice by which a Senator informs his or her floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The Majority Leader need not follow the Senator's wishes, but is on notice that the opposing Senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure.

  7. First, I'd note that Mark doesn't dispute the fact that we went months without seeing a nominee from the incompetent Obama administration. The nominee cleared committee in late November. Reid planned no floor debate and unanimous consent to the nomination, which DeMint objected to. DeMint wants some floor debate and he wants a roll call vote. The suggestion that some floor debate–not 30 hours, but some–is inappropriate is simply mind-boggling. Think of the Mukasey nomination–some Democrats objected to the nominee and wanted a floor debate despite the fact that there was majority support for the nomination, and the Senate had 5 hours of floor debate. (The delay attendant to that debate wasn't controversial. As I recall, Mark favored a filibuster.) (For more on how the Democrats delayed and obstructed Bush nominees, see here:… Remember that Mark favored these delays.) In any case, the Obama administration is using this issue–which isn't relevant to the recent failures of the Obama administration–to force through the unionization of TSA. Unionization is something Obama does care about it, unlike national security. Mark's just playing his part in that game.

  8. Thomas,

    It seems clear to me that Southers' appointment isn't at issue here. No, something else is and it doesn't take a psych degree to figure it out. Its apparent to me that even if Southers WAS appointed and head of TSA right now, no doubt you would then criticize the appointment.

    Its easy to sit there and point out the could of, would of, should of's AFTER an event has happened, but as Mark has inadvertently pointed out, there are a lot of things that require lots of attention, especially in a year where healthcare dominates the halls of congress in terms of domestic issues.

    To use this to say that somehow this represents a carelessness on national security only says something about you, not this administration. Besides – in this case (Christmas day incident) no matter how much security you do have at home, there is always a way for a single person to cause trouble – no person sitting in office, Republican or Democrat, Obama or someone else, can possibly change that.

    But of course, I am relying on rational people to agree.

  9. darek, I'm not the one who brought up the Southers nomination. The Obama administration brought it up to change the subject. The TSA was never given the relevant information, so really there's not much that can be said about TSA in this case. And, no, I don't have any problems with the appointment, though I do have a problem with the Obama administration's plan to unionize the department and with Southers' refusal to confess that plan. As for the rest: Yeah, governing is difficult and requires prioritizing, and my complaint is that Obama chose poorly. There's a reason that Southers wasn't nominated until 8 months into the administration. Health care didn't have to dominate; that was a choice. Finally, it was Obama who called this a "potential[ly] catastrophic breach" and a "systemic failure." The Obama administration had advance warning on this, and ignored it. I'm not insisting on perfection in our systems, but we deserve better than this, and even Obama admits it. Maybe now that Obama has admitted it you will change your tune.

  10. Thomas,

    You are incorrect on many points here.

    For one, the Obama admin DIDN'T have advance warning on this. If the CIA or FBI has certain intelligence – that does not mean that the administration has that information at the PRECISE moment the CIA comes upon that info. This isn't the movies, Thomas. If you've read any story on Obama's comments on this – he wasn't admitting anything, he was pointing out the problems between intelligence communities (he is not one of them, he gets the reports from intel, he is not an intel himself). How you go from one to another is again a jump worth noting for any other readers.

    I brought up the Southers nomination for the purpose of judging your comments. Very little to go by on my part – but much to be spoken of based on your comments and I stand by that. The Obama admin brought him up to reply to the journalists who asked why isn't there a head of TSA. We now know why that is – and its politicized because of DeMint. You refuse to acknowledge this, only to say that it is Obama's (still abiding by Curmudgeons' #2, btw) fault because he may be on the side of the workers of TSA.

    Please show me (link) where it is justified that this is Obama's fault and not the CIA or another intelligence agency. If you can't than I think you are obliged to give up this empty argument.

  11. darek, first, you apparently haven't been following the story. The National Counterterrorism Center had the relevant information, but decided that it was too extreme a response to put this individual–a Nigerian, not a US citizen–on the no-fly list. And his Secretary of Homeland Security defended that decision publicly on Sunday, after it was clear what that decision meant. This isn't a case in which someone in an FBI field office has one piece of information and someone in a CIA station half a world away has another, and if only we could put the two pieces together, or whatever it is you're imagining. Second, though I'm sympathetic to the idea that the administration isn't identical to the government such that a low level bureaucrat's failure isn't the administration's failure, that isn't the standard used here at the "reality based community" over the last few years, and I don't see why we'd adopt it now, even if it were relevant, which it isn't. Third, yes, Obama was admitting a failure of his administration, and fortunately his admission is a rejection of the policy defended Sunday by his cabinet. Fourth, the idea that the Obama administration brought up Southers' nomination in response to questions from the press is absurd. DeMint was on television in early December talking about his hold, it's not some big secret that no one knew about. The Obama administration saw an opportunity to fool people by changing the subject–maybe we can blame DeMint for our failures!–and unthinking partisans bought it, which says bad things about both the administration and those partisans.

    Since you're curious, here's what Napolitano said on Sunday, as a defense of the decision not to place Abdulmutallab on the no fly list:

    NAPOLITANO: Well, there is no suggestion that — he was on what’s called a tied list, which has half-a-million-plus names on it. And there is no suggestion that that was not shared information. The issue was, was there enough information to move him to the more specific lists, which would require additional examination or indeed being on no-fly status. And to date, it does not appear that there was any such information to move him from that tied list, which was shared and everybody had it, but to a more specific list which would require different types of screening at the airport.

    This was a policy decision–how do we respond to this kind of information–and not an intelligence gathering question. And the policy decision, which the administration defended until Tuesday, was that moving Nigerians to the no-fly list required more information than was available in this case.

  12. Thomas,

    I have been following the story, thanks for your concern, but it seems we have different interpretations of accountability here.

    From what I've read (, It seems clear to me that this is in fact a case of agencies failing to share key information, so until you provide the proper response, your first point falls. It may not have been in the way you paraphrased, but there was a lack of communication nonetheless.

    You need to specify who it is your blaming here – Obama himself or members of his administration. I can sympathize with the idea that I am in a position to take some heat if someone I pick as part of my team makes an error, but at the same time, look at the situation: again, this is a kind of thing (terrorism) which isn't solved by taking proper security measures or putting the 'right' people in key positions. No matter how well we secure ourselves – in our airports, subways, etc – if some nut job wants to do some damage, he or she will find a way. So from where I am sitting, to use such an event within this context as a means to attack someone or his admin for political muster (which you haven't denied doing, btw) is pretty interesting, I think – not to mention rich, considering you accuse others of partisanship.

    Once again, you'll have to show me were exactly Obama was admitting failure – was he admitting failure on his behalf? This is his fault? Was he saying he failed? Or was he acknowledging the failure of other intel agencies? The distinction is important and unless you're just trying to blame Obama for anything and everything, it does mean something different.

    I guess I just don't get what your point is regarding the DeMint/TSA holdup. You seem to be defending DeMint in trying to hold off the nomination for questioning, yet at the same time blaming Obama and Reid for not nominating Southers sooner – in fact they're 'fooling' people by talking about why there isn't a head of the organization responsible the nation's transportation security.

    I find DeMints holdup to be idiotic for other reasons, but overall, I don't think its all that relevant. I'll say once again – would terrorist attacks suddenly stop because there is a head of TSA? I doubt it. Its just a partisan issue – which you've displayed rather nicely, I think.

  13. darek, the point of the post-9/11 intelligence reforms was to make sure critical intelligence was shared among the various intelligence agencies. That process did not work perfectly in this case, but it did work–the NCTC had and shared the most relevant bits of the information among the intelligence community. But they made a policy decision that moving Abdulmutallab to the no-fly list was inappropriate–an overreaction based on the information known. Based on the defense offered by Napolitano, that policy decision seems to have been Obama administration policy, which isn't surprising given the rhetoric from Obama during the last 3 years. So, no, my point that the NCTC's policy decision to allow Abdulmutallab to continue to fly didn't result from or lead to a lack of sharing of information doesn't fall. Further, you want to genericize these attacks, but we're dealing with a specific attack from a Mr. Abdulmutallab, which attack was possible solely because the policy decision was wrong. Finally, it doesn't really matter to me whether you want to say that the "Obama administration" is incompetent in these matters, or that Obama is, because it really comes to the same thing. We're not going to have another election with Napolitano or Blair on the ballot, and they have and will have their jobs only because they have Obama's confidence. I don't think we've spent a lot of time over the last few years figuring out whether a decision made by a cabinet officer, or subcabinet officer, or a general, or anyone else directly or indirectly responsible to the president was attributable to the president–we've just attributed those decisions to the president. (In fact, when career civil servants at the Interior department were guilty of wrong-doing, that too was attributed to the "Bush administration", which seems a particularly loose use of terminology, but that's apparently the accepted usage now, and I'm a conservative so I don't see any need to change.)

    On Southers: I don't know how to be more clear. The issue is a distraction, a smoke screen sent up by the Obama administration. (You seem confused on this point, because you don't understand that the WaPost article is essentially ghost-written by Rahm and was raised largely avoid talking about how badly the Obama team screwed this attack up.) TSA has nothing to do with this case, because TSA was, as a matter of Obama administration policy, cut out of this case. That was the wrong decision, but those are the facts. It would be great if we had an appointed administrator at TSA, and we would if 1) Obama had nominated someone more quickly, 2) the nominee had directly answered questions presented to him by senators, and 3) Reid had recognized that because the nominee hadn't directly answered questions presented, there would be a need for some minimal amount of floor debate and a roll call vote.

  14. Thomas,

    This grows a little tiresome. You don't elaborate on any of your claims nor provide evidence for them. Not moving Abdulmutallab was a policy decision? I'd seriously like to see you back this up and explore this with you. Was it Obama's or NCTC's? You've pointed your finger so many times now its hard to tell and yet you tell me that I am generalizing? Are you kidding me? Reread your last post – you haven't specified anything. You've asserted much – thats clear, but have substantiated little.

    The link I provided clearly states that there was a failure to communicate key information – yet you claim they shared the most relevant. You apparently are the expert on the matter, yet are hardly interested to expound. Enlighten me.

    The rest of your post isn't really coherent in terms of substance to our discussion. Not to mention it seems you have this notion that Obama, Reid or is it now Rahm are all making newspapers and information outlets behave like Pravda.

    Your position on this isn't as clear or as well rounded as you'd like to believe it is and frankly, it shows.

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