For an opposition party looking for respect from a new president, the best advice is the same advice that might be given to a freshly-arrived prison inmate: Find someone – anyone – and throw a punch. Right away.
And so it’s become something of a tradition for one Cabinet nominee in every incoming administration to be targeted by the other party. Whether the nomination ends up being rejected by the Senate isn’t always the point; the idea is to create a public controversy that will disrupt the new president’s honeymoon and to make it clear to him that he won’t be able to roll over the opposition party.
This year, the role of targeted nominee seems to have fallen to Eric Holder, Barack Obama’s nominee for attorney general. Their ranks devastated by the last two elections, some Republicans spy a grandstanding opportunity in the role Holder, a deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton, played in the last-minute pardon of Marc Rich in January 2001.
For what it’s worth, Holder conferred with Rich’s lawyer numerous times in the year leading up to the pardon, ultimately telling the White House that he was “neutral, leaning toward favorable” on the idea. Rich had fled the country after being indicted on tax evasion charges in 1983 and was living in Switzerland at the time the pardon was issued.
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