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Senate Republicans block Obama's nominee for No. 2 Justice Department post

May 10, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro and Michael Muskal | Washington Bureau

It has been just over a week since the United States killed terrorist Osama bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan, but the good feelings that blurred partisan lines on national security issues have been reignited in Day-Glo brightness, according to Democrats.

On Monday, Republicans in the Senate blocked the confirmation of James Cole to be the deputy attorney general, the second most important position in the department and the person who formally signs off on anti-terrorism plans. GOP senators cited continuing questions about Cole’s position on using civilian courts rather than military panels to try terrorism suspects among other issues.

Cole, was named to his post by President Obama in an appointment while Congress was out of session. Cole can continue to serve until the end of the year but needs Senate confirmation to stay in the post beyond that.

But getting the needed 60 votes to bring the nomination to the floor has proved to be difficult. By a 50-40 vote, the nomination fell short Monday night with just Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) crossing over and voting to bring the Cole nomination to the floor.

To keep alive the possibility of bringing the nomination back, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cast a “no” vote. Democrats insist that they expect Cole to be confirmed eventually.

The Obama administration has repeatedly complained about the amount of time it has taken to get its nominees through the Senate confirmation process. Though Democrats and their independent allies control 53 seats, Republicans with 47 seats are strong enough to block the process.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, summed up the GOP position, arguing that Cole favored treating acts by foreign terrorists the same way as those perpetrated by domestic ones, and has argued that the civilian justice system could be used for both. Grassley cited a 2002 article by Cole that had equated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon with the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building by Timothy McVeigh.

“It appears that if given a choice of prosecuting high-ranking terrorists in civilian courts or military commissions, Mr. Cole would likely favor civilian courts based upon his longstanding belief in the role the attorney general plays in protecting the principles of the criminal justice system,” said Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) defended Cole.

“One week ago, a successful operation led to the death of the world’s No. 1 terrorist,’ Leahy said in a prepared statement. "Experts and the American people believe that we are now facing a heightened terrorism threat in the wake of the raid upon Osama bin Laden’s compound. Our success in protecting our nation depends on the ability of the president to rely on his national security team. Jim Cole is a key member of that team, with a well-deserved reputation for toughness, fairness, and integrity.

“Senate Republicans have chosen to filibuster his nomination as deputy attorney general of the United States, the second highest position at the Justice Department with critical national security responsibilities. This is the wrong filibuster at the wrong time.”

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