Shining the spotlight on process


President Obama delivered his weekly address on Saturday morning, his first since the State of the Union speech, and it stood to reason that the president would highlight many of the same themes he stressed on Tuesday.

It was interesting, then, to see Obama brush past some of the higher-profile elements of his agenda and shine the spotlight on a behind-the-scenes issue: the dysfunctional process.

Pay particular attention to the comments around the 0:42 mark:

“Just two days ago, a senator from Utah promised to obstruct every single American I appoint to a judgeship or public service position – unless I fire the consumer watchdog I put in place to protect the American people from financial schemes or malpractice.

“For the most part, it’s not that this senator thinks these nominees are unqualified. In fact, all of the judicial nominees being blocked have bipartisan support. And almost 90 percent have unanimous support from the Judiciary Committee.

“Instead, one of his aides told reporters that the senator plans to, and I’m quoting here, ‘Delay and slow the process in order to get the president’s attention.’”

Obama was referring to freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah, who late last week signaled his willingness to take obstructionism in the Senate to new depths. Asked about the president’s criticism, Lee added over the weekend that he’s merely doing his part to defend constitutional principles.

For the record, there is nothing in the Constitution that empowers one senator to shut down the chamber’s entire confirmation process, indefinitely, because he or she feels like it.

As for the larger point, it’s encouraging to see process issues get the spotlight. It’s probably fair to say the vast majority of Americans have little interest in the minutiae – cloture votes, pro-forma sessions, motions to proceed, etc. – and it’s hard to blame them. However, to the extent that voter cynicism is driven, at least in part, by Congress’ inability to complete basic tasks, the process is critically important, and Obama’s push for reform is a step in the right direction.

To reiterate a point from last week, even if there’s no progress on these issues anytime soon – and there almost certainly won’t be – the more of the public hears about efforts to improve the dysfunction that plagues Capitol Hill, the better.

Shining the spotlight on process