WASHINGTON – A U.S. senator has taken the extraordinary step of blocking more than 70 of U.S. President Barack Obama's nominees amid a dispute over a lucrative U.S. Air Force tanker deal, Senate aides said Friday.
Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, placed a blanket "hold" in part because of the feud pitting Airbus parent EADS and its partner Northrop Grumman against Boeing, his office said.
"Senator Shelby is holding all of the president's nominees pending on the Executive Calendar," a total of "70-plus" people, said a spokeswoman for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Regan Lachapelle.
The U.S. Senate frequently approves non-controversial nominees without a formal roll-call vote, with a "unanimous consent" determination that can be blocked by just one senator, requiring a time-consuming process and 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to overcome.
Shelby "has placed holds on several pending nominees due to unaddressed national security concerns," his spokesman, Jonathan Graffeo, said in a statement that cited the tanker dispute as a key reason for the move.
The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company and its rival Boeing have been locked in a long-running rivalry to win a $35 billion contract for a fleet of new aerial refueling tankers.
The EADS/Northrop partnership would build the airplane in Shelby's home state of Alabama but have accused the Pentagon of favoring Boeing in a draft request for proposal and warned they may withdraw from the competition.
"Nearly 10 years after the U.S. Air Force announced plans to replace the aging tanker fleet, we still do not have a transparent and fair acquisition process to move forward," said Graffeo.
"The Department of Defense must recognize that the draft Request for Proposal needs to be significantly and substantively changed," said the spokesman.
Shelby is also "deeply concerned" that Obama may block the construction of an FBI center in Alabama to test improvised explosive devices — the "roadside bombs" that have killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This decision impedes the U.S. military, the intelligence community, and federal law enforcement personnel in their missions to exploit and analyze intelligence information critical to fighting terrorism and ensuring American security worldwide," said Graffeo.
© AFP 2014