WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama will stop blocking Senate confirmation of about 70 government appointees nominated by President Barack Obama, his office said.
Shelby had placed "holds" on most of Obama's nominees, delaying the Senate from acting on them, in a dispute over federal spending involving his state.
"The purpose of placing numerous holds was to get the White House's attention on two issues that are critical to our national security – the Air Force's aerial refueling tanker acquisition and the FBI's Terrorist Device Analytical Center," Shelby spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said in a statement Monday night.
Shelby wants the tanker and the new FBI explosives center to be built in Alabama. Senators frequently block individual appointments, but Shelby's blanket hold was unusual.
Now that he has gotten Obama's attention, Graffeo said, "Sen. Shelby has decided to release his holds on all but a few nominees directly related to the Air Force tanker acquisition."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday, "If you needed one example of what's wrong with this town, it might be that one senator can hold up 70 qualified individuals to make government better because he didn't get his earmarks."
Graffeo denied that Shelby's demands revolved around earmarks. Regarding the Air Force tankers, the spokesman said Shelby "is seeking to ensure an open, fair and transparent competition that delivers the best equipment to our men and women in uniform."
Graffeo said the explosives center would help the FBI deal with a 20-year backlog in "forensic evidence that could help us identify and hunt down terrorists."
"Sen. Shelby is fully justified in his concern that the Obama administration is seeking to rescind funds already appropriated for this vital national security purpose," Graffeo said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week that Shelby's move was holding up about 70 appointments, including a critical top Defense Department position overseeing deployments to the war in Afghanistan.
A senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Shelby has built his career on steering spending earmarks to Alabama.
Shelby can't single-handedly defeat Obama's nominations. But by forcing time-consuming votes on each one, he can delay them indefinitely.