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Given a Gift, Dems Try Not to Blow the Shelby Affair

I haven't seen Democrats or their amen corner in the press get this giddy since George Bush made way for Barack Obama's on Inauguration Day.

But for once, the Democrats have been granted a gift from the gods - or more prosaically, from Senator Richard Shelby, the politically tone-deaf Republican from Alabama whose stones must be the size of his state's Cheaha Mountain.

As has been recounted in detail elsewhere, Shelby put a "blanket hold" on at least 70 of the president's nominations, a procedural move in his bid to get the government to send billions of dollars back to Alabama to fund a couple of local programs.(CongressDaily first reported the news.) Pork barrel politics at its best, or worst -depending upon your view. It's a rotten practice but one as Josh Marshall notes, it's part of a long American tradition.

"In this case, we're not dealing with a stand on partisanship or ideology or simple political shiv play which I guess can each be respected in their own place. This is more like just a stick up. Gimme my money and I'll give you your Senate back! Worse than a squeegee man and not much better than a bank robber, Shelby is shutting down the president's ability to appoint anyone to anything until he gets his way. In a sense Shelby's gambit is little different from what countless other senators of both parties have done in the past, using the senate rules to get the White House's attention to pry some money free from the federal government. But the scale is unheard and the moment is different. The only mystery about this one is which is more outrageous -- Shelby's hold or the fact that the rest of the senators of both parties allow it."

For the moment, at least, the Democrats will claim the moral high ground. The show must go on and so if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has half a brain, he'll stage-manage the scene by keeping Louisiana's Mary Landrieu out of sight during this latest media scrum. (Her presence would, um, not be a good right now. After forcing the Democrats to buy off her vote, Landrieu won't stay out of the limelight. She recently took to the Senate floor to explain "the real story" behind the $300 million Louisiana Medicaid provision in the Senate health care reform bill and then issued a press release to make sure nobody missed her appearance.)

That's why the Democrats ought to be sending Shelby a magnum of Dom Perignon. Here's Michigan Democrat Carl Levin bemoaning his "frustration and dismay" at the roadblocks in the way of expediting the confirmation of five nominees at the Department of Defense.

It's good theatre and the Democrats hope enough people will be watching. At the very least, they hope that striking a pose of high dudgeon can help wash away some of the less savory leftovers from the health care reform battle. It won't be long before unnamed Washington sources remind reporters how Shelby talks up his opposition to Congressional earmarks (for regions outside of his home state.) Also, aren't there any Bush-era YouTube clips floating around with Shelby lecturing Democrats during that presidential nominees deserved "up and down" votes.

Obviously, though, that was then and this is now.

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