WASHINGTON -- Opening a summer showdown with Congress, a combative President Barack Obama nominated three judges to a powerful appellate court yesterday and challenged Republicans to stop the "political obstruction" holding up his nominees.
"What I'm doing today is my job," Obama said in the face of Republican attempts to eliminate the very judicial vacancies he's trying to fill. "I need the Senate to do its job."
Obama's nominations were another ingredient in a White House effort to regain the political momentum after weeks of controversies, disputes over legislation and a budget stalemate that shows no sign of ending.
Obama used a Rose Garden ceremony to introduce his candidates to fill the three openings on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, grooming grounds for Supreme Court justices. The nominees include two attorneys experienced in arguing appellate cases, Patricia Millett and Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, who is a lower court judge in the same building across from the Capitol where the D.C. circuit court meets.
"There's no reason, aside from politics, for Republicans to block these individuals from getting an up-or-down vote," Obama argued.
The court is a long-running battleground between the White House and Senate that predate Obama. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah pointed out that in 2006, Democratic senators objected to approving President George W. Bush's pick amid questions about whether the seat needed to be filled.
"Today's nominations are nothing more than a political ploy to advance a partisan agenda," said Lee, a member of the Judiciary Committee tasked with holding judicial confirmation hearings.
Obama has other nomination battles on his hands this summer -- his selection of Tom Perez as labor secretary and Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency still face GOP resistance. And Republicans have been hammering Obama over last year's attack in Libya that killed four Americans, political targeting at the IRS and tracking of journalists who reported leaks. And there's been no movement in the partisan stalemate to replace $85 billion in governmentwide spending cuts.
There's no shortage of other disputes, either. Republicans have opposed Obama's proposals for gun control, a minimum-wage increase, universal prekindergarten and more federal money for highways and bridge repair. Meanwhile, Obama has threatened to veto GOP legislation on spending, student loan rates, cybersecurity and overtime compensation.