Senate Republicans Allegedly Block Key Intelligence Nominations

Obama administration officials and Senate Democrats are complaining that Senate Republicans are secretly blocking approval of two nominees to key U.S. intelligence posts.

Following public hearings, the Senate Intelligence Committee last month approved the nominations of Caryn Wagner to become intelligence chief at the Department of Homeland Security and Philip Goldberg to head the State Department's Intelligence and Research bureau. The Intelligence Committee's vote on both nominees was unanimous, meaning that every Democrat and every Republican member of the committees supported their confirmation by the full Senate.

The nominations were then sent to the Senate floor, where leadership officials sought to arrange expedited approval for them through a procedure that requires unanimous consent by senators. All Senate Democrats gave their approval to the nominees. But according to a senior Senate official, at least one unknown Republican senator, taking advantage of one of the Senate's more esoteric conventions, lodged an objection to unanimous consent─effectively placing an indefinite anonymous "hold" on the two appointments.

Democrats say that normally, if the Republicans objected to such nominees on grounds that they were poorly qualified or in an effort to extract political concessions (related or unrelated to intelligence) from majority Democrats, they would publicly make known the reasons for their objections. When senators act to hold up nominees anonymously, a Democratic Senate aide said, there is often an ulterior motive behind the move. Ultimately, the Democratic majority can call for a recorded floor vote on the nominations, which presumably would then result in their approval, given that Intelligence Committee Republicans already are on the record supporting the nominees. But floor-vote procedures are cumbersome and the intelligence nominees could face additional delays due to a logjam of other pending Obama nominees who are awaiting floor votes.

In the case of the intelligence nominees, Capitol Hill and administration officials said they are confident that Republicans are responsible for the blockage but have no idea who placed the anonymous hold or what their motivation was for doing so. Administration officials said that given the uproar sparked by the unsuccessful attempted bombing of a transatlantic jetliner on Christmas Day by an alleged jihadist suspect armed with a bomb in his underpants, the need for a permanent head of intelligence at Homeland Security seems particularly urgent.

Homeland Security nominee Wagner's resume shows that she has served as a signals intelligence officer, a member of the House Intelligence Committee staff, and in senior analytical and management positions at both the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Goldberg is a veteran Foreign Service officer who served in senior diplomatic positions in U.S. missions in Kosovo and Chile. In 2008, while serving as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, he was chucked out of the country by leftist President Evo Morales, a credential that you would expect to endear him to congressional Republicans.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, had no immediate comment.