In the early part of the last decade, Higginbottom was a staffer for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. She advised the 2008 Obama campaign on domestic policy. After the election, she was hired as deputy director of the Obama White House Domestic Policy Council. Then came her appointment to the Office of Management and Budget earlier this year.
In short, Higginbottom is part of the army of little-known deputies, advisers and assistants who oversee the inner workings of the federal government. They aren’t regularly grilled on Meet the Press. Their op-eds rarely appear on the pages of The Washington Post. And no one is yet working on their biographies.
What sets Higginbottom apart is that she has become a political football. Her nomination to OMB is stalled. A confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate is not on the calendar. Why? Because one or more senators have placed what’s called a “secret hold” on the nomination.
If secret holds don’t sound very democratic, it’s because they aren’t. Without attaching a name to the process, a senator can stealthily put the kibosh on legislation or a nominee they don’t like. The notion of a public vote goes right out the window.
Late last year, a secret hold killed a measure to protect federal government employees who blow the whistle on corruption or fraud. An effort to sniff out which senator snuffed out the Whistle Blower Enhancement Act narrowed it down to Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., or Jeff Sessions, Alabama’s Republican junior senator from Mobile.
The Hill newspaper reported that Sessions may have put the hold on Higginbottom’s nomination. “Democratic aides point to Sessions as a source of the hold, but his office would not confirm that Friday,” Erik Wasson reported in The Hill.
Sessions hasn’t been shy about criticizing the nominee. “Ms. Higginbottom’s experience level is stunningly lacking,” he said last week. “She’s never served on the Budget Committee, never studied business. Never run a business. Never been a mayor of a town.”
OMB spokeswoman Moira Mack responded with praise for Higginbottom, citing “her command of the issues and the depth of her experience” and noting she “has worked at the highest levels of policymaking in the legislative and executive branches for over a decade.”
That sounds like a typical Washington spat, a narrow debate over a nominee’s qualifications. (Though we should note the resume of Josh Kaplan, Bush OMB deputy director from 2003 until 2006, appears to fail Sessions’ test.)
Senators should not be a rubber stamp for presidential nominations. A healthy democracy requires a public confirmation process where a nominee’s strengths and weaknesses are weighed. Let this fight play out, but let it happen in the sunshine.