It’s hard to overemphasize to the other 49 states the impact the smallest gestures toward Cuba have on politics in Florida. Case in point: Florida’s new Republican senator, George LeMieux, is blocking the appointment of an Obama nominee as ambassador to Brazil because of a stand by that nominee on Cuba. Hanging in the balance is a $7.5 billion contract to build Boeing planes in Seattle.
LeMieux was selected by Gov. Charlie Crist to fill the vacancy created when Mel Martinez pulled a Sarah Palin and walked off the job with a year and a half left to go. He was largely considered a seat-warmer for his former boss, Crist, who is running for the Senate 24/7, except for when his primary challenger wants to schedule a debate. Then, of course, Charlie has pressing gubernatorial duties to perform. But LeMieux recently raised eyebrows when he opened a PAC, indicating he likes the feeling of power that elected office is giving him and intends to pursue it someday soon.
So far, his Senate record is in line with his party: say no to everything, and be as much of an obstruction and hindrance as possible. LeMieux’s method in the short time he’s been in office is to employ the hold.
You won’t find a description in the rule books, but a “hold” is one of the most powerful, many say abused, weapons available to the 100 men and women who make up the Senate — even to a neophyte like LeMieux, who was never elected and is serving on a temporary basis.
“It’s the power of one,” LeMieux says.
Because the Senate works by unanimous consent, a lone lawmaker can block a bill or nomination from reaching the floor by notifying party leaders. Holds can be ignored by leaders or broken with 60 votes, but that rarely happens in this clubby institution.
Sometimes holds are done in secret or with little fanfare, hence the nickname “silent filibuster.” Other times lawmakers publicize them to settle a score or in search of a bargaining chip or a headline.
LeMieux has used the hold a couple of times already, currently to block the confirmation of Thomas A. Shannon Jr. as ambassador to Brazil. It seems that Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric affairs under George W. Bush, helped the Organization of American States (OAS) better define its membership rules. It would no longer exclude Cuba just for being Cuba, but would bar any nation that does not “practice OAS’s democratic ideals of multiparty democratic government, human rights and freedom of the press.” Theoretically, if Cuba ever met those standards, it would be admitted.
For the anti-Cuba faction in Florida, even this is too generous. So LeMieux, whose buddy Charlie Crist is running against Cuban-American Marco Rubio in the Senate primary, is taking the opportunity to pander for Cuban votes by putting a hold on Shannon’s nomination.
…last week, nine former assistant secretaries of state sent LeMieux a letter urging him to give up. “This continuing, prolonged vacancy sends an unintended signal that the United States does not consider Brazil an important relationship,” they wrote. One suggested the delay could hurt U.S.-based Boeing’s bid to sell Brazil $7.5 billion in fighter jets.
To LeMieux and Crist, the good of the country is secondary to playing politics. We couldn’t agree more with the headline on the matter in the St. Petersburg Times: “Partisan politics isn’t service.”