White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took aim at Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La) on Thursday, calling her decision to block the nomination of the next OMB chairman over concern about a moratorium on deepwater drilling both "sad" and "outrageous."
Addressing what appears to be a political stalemate over the nomination of Jacob Lew to the post, Gibbs offered unusually blunt criticism of a congressional Democrat.
"The budget-planning process is underway," Gibbs said. "And should be underway with a director with the type of bipartisan support that Jack has gotten through two committees. I think it is a sad day when somebody is held up with such bipartisan support with the type of experience that's necessary in an environment where we have to improve our fiscal picture that that person is held up for something that is completely unrelated to them. I think it is sad and I think it's outrageous."
"The president -- well, Secretary Salazar met with Senator Landrieu to update her on where we are with the situation," Gibbs added. "They have met in the last couple of days to get an update on where we are. We are not bargaining the safety of oil drilling away for an appointment that shouldn't be the cause of the type of gridlock that we are used to seeing in Washington. And I would think people who are concerned about our fiscal picture, who are concerned about where we are heading in the deficit, at the time of crisis would not do the type of things that Senator Landrieu is doing."
The White House has traditionally taken a tempered tone with respect to negotiations with conservative Democrats, driven primarily by the recognition that they often hold the key votes for various legislative initiatives. In the case of Lew's nomination, Landrieu is pretty much acting unilaterally to prevent his appointment and not on grounds that he'd be bad for OMB. The Senator is trying to get the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf lifted and is holding Lew hostage until that happens. One lawmaker who plans to vote against Lew's nomination on qualification grounds is Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has said that Lew is too linked to the "failed policies of the past," as recently reported by HuffPost.
The administration had, to this point, refrained from weighing in on the matter, save a disapproving statement from the OMB. But clearly neither Gibbs nor the president are pleased.
UPDATE: Aaron Saunders, a spokesperson for Landrieu, responded to Gibbs' comments by re-affirming the Senator's belief "that the moratorium and nomination of a key Administration economic adviser are related." He pointed the Huffington Post back to the original letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when Landrieu first announced her hold on Lew's nomination.
Although Mr. Lew clearly possesses the expertise necessary to serve as one of the President's most important economic advisors, I found that he lacked sufficient concern for the host of economic challenges confronting the Gulf Coast. The fact that the most acute of these economic challenges, the moratorium, results from a direct (and reversible) federal action only serves to harden my stance on Mr. Lew's nomination. I cannot support further action on Mr. Lew's nomination to be a key economic advisor to the President until I am convinced that the President and his Administration understand the detrimental impacts that the actual and de facto moratoria continue to have on the Gulf Coast.