White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Thursday called Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) procedural hold on President Obama's nominee for budget director sad and outrageous.
Gibbs said it is a "sad day" when someone is held up when they have received bipartisan support in both the Senate Budget and Homeland Security panels.
He added, "I think it is said, and I think it's outrageous" that Landrieu is holding up Jacob Lew's nomination to be head of the White House Office of Management and Budget "for something that is completely unrelated to him."
The comments from Gibbs turn up the heat on an unusual battle between a Democratic senator and the White House.
Landrieu is blocking Senate confirmation of his nomination until a post-election lame-duck session in order to keep pressure on the Obama administration to lift or relax a deepwater oil-and-gas drilling moratorium and to speed up shallow-water drilling permits that are not officially part of the ban.
Asked about Gibbs's comments, a Landrieu spokesman referred to a letter she sent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) when she announced her hold on Lew, while adding via e-mail, "Sen. Landrieu absolutely believes that the moratorium and nomination of a key economic adviser are related."
Landrieu in her letter to Reid noted, "Although Mr. Lew clearly possesses the expertise necessary to serve as one of the President's most important economic advisors, I found that he lacked sufficient concern for the host of economic challenges confronting the Gulf Coast."
She added, "The fact that the most acute of these economic challenges, the moratorium, results from a direct (and reversible) federal action only serves to harden my stance on Mr. Lew's nomination. I cannot support further action on Mr. Lew's nomination to be a key economic advisor to the President until I am convinced that the President and his Administration understand the detrimental impacts that the actual and de facto moratoria continue to have on the Gulf Coast."
On Wednesday, Landrieu told reporters in the Capitol Building that she will “continue to work in good faith with this administration over the next couple of weeks to see what we can do.”
Landrieu blamed the administration’s drilling ban — put in place as administration officials review new federal drilling standards in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico spill — for economically hurting the region more than the spill itself.
“We’ve got to get people back to work, and it’s thousands of people, thousands of people that have been put out of work more from the moratorium than from the oil spill itself,” she said.
Landrieu then evoked the Biblical struggle of Moses, as depicted in Exodus 8:1. “It’s intended to call attention, to put pressure and to speed up the release of the hostages,” she said of her hold of Lew’s nomination. “Let my people go. Let them go. Let them get back to work and hopefully it’s helping.”
This story was corrected at 5:09 p.m. to reflect Gibbs's full quotation.