ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
President Obama's push to get the economy moving has run into significant roadblocks in the Senate. That chamber is still controlled by the president's fellow Democrats. But simply by threatening a filibuster, Senate Republicans can block presidential nominees for key economic posts.
And as NPR's David Welna reports, that is exactly what they have done.
DAVID WELNA: In early March, President Obama announced he was nominating Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to be the next U.S. ambassador to China. Days later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell convened a news conference at the Capitol.
Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): I'm here today to announce that we have got 44 signatures on a letter to the president indicating that we don't intend to move forward on the nomination of a new secretary of commerce or any other trade-related position that requires confirmation of the Senate.
WELNA: McConnell said Republicans would block such nominations until the White House submitted to Congress three pending trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. Those agreements remain stalled over GOP objections to training for displaced workers.
Republicans reacted angrily when President Obama nominated John Bryson, a former energy executive and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, to be next commerce secretary.
Senator JOHN BARRASSO (Republican, Wyoming): Instead of appointing a truly an economic leader, he has appointed an environmental extremist.
WELNA: That's Wyoming Senator John Barrasso. He says the president's pick to head commerce would make it harder and more expensive for the private sector to create jobs.
Sen. BARRASSO: So the president might think he's the right man at the right time. I think he is the wrong man at the worst time.
WELNA: At least half a dozen other nominees for senior economic policy positions have been stalled for weeks and sometimes months in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid, last week, accused Republicans of bottling up those nominations in a bid to limit President Obama to a single term in office.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): Even someone that won a Nobel Prize for economics wasn't good enough to be on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, according to the Republicans.
WELNA: That would be MIT professor Peter Diamond, who was awarded the Nobel Prize last year for his work on joblessness. More than a year after being nominated for a vacant seat on the Fed, Diamond last week withdrew his nomination.
Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby led the effort to keep Diamond off the Fed.
Senator RICHARD SHELBY (Republican, Alabama): A lot of people had a lot of questions, not just me about his - although he's a smart man, he's a Nobel Prize winner, look what he was in - look behind - in the weeds - he supported all the printing of money, borrowing money, stimulus stuff. He would just be ratifying what the whole Obama administration's doing through the Fed.
WELNA: Shelby said he did not want someone on the Fed board who advocated government intervention to fight unemployment.
Michael Barr served the first two years of the Obama administration as assistant secretary of the Treasury for financial institutions. Barr points out that the Fed is, in fact, congressionally mandated to try to spur job growth.
Professor MICHAEL BARR (Law, University of Michigan): Peter Diamond is squarely in the mainstream of academic thought in this area, and I think he would have been an exceptionally strong Federal Reserve member, helping the Fed to guide monetary policies.
WELNA: Meanwhile, pressure is growing from outside groups for President Obama to appoint Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren as head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. To which Senator Shelby says...
Sen. SHELBY: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.
WELNA: Shelby and 43 other Republican senators have signed a letter saying they will block anyone named to head that bureau until it's restructured to their liking.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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