Sen. David VitterDavid VitterFormer GOP rep joins K Street lobbying firm Capitol Counsel Lobbying World Mercury brings on former Sen. Vitter, two others MORE (R-La.) on Thursday blocked the nomination of Beth Cobert to become the director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Cobert has been leading the agency as its acting director since this summer, when former Director Katherine Archuleta resigned in the wake of far-reaching hacks at the agency.
Vitter’s hold, however, is not related to the digital intrusions.
Instead, the Louisiana lawmaker is seeking answers to a letter he sent Cobert earlier this month regarding an OPM rule that allows members of Congress and Capitol Hill employees to receive certain small-business subsidies to help pay for health insurance purchased through an ObamaCare exchange.
“As much as federal bureaucrats enjoy hiding behind layers of red tape, we have now reached the point where OPM can no longer avoid explaining how Congress was allowed to purchase health insurance as a small business — when it clearly is not,” Vitter said in a statement. “Ms. Cobert’s nomination will not move forward in any capacity until the American people have received answers as to why Washington’s Obamacare exemption exists.”
Cobert’s nomination was initially seen as relatively uncontroversial, but it has hit some bumps in recent weeks.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzOversight chair: 'Ridiculous' to call for investigation into Nunes The Hill's 12:30 Report Secret Service agents set for discipline after fence-jumping incident: report MORE (R-Utah) earlier this month issued a subpoena to the agency seeking documents related to last summer’s hacks and accusing Cobert of “not working in good faith with the committee.”
A week later, the OPM’s inspector general declared that Cobert was ineligible to serve as interim director while her nomination is pending before the Senate.
Just hours after Vitter’s statement, news of the hold spilled over into a House Oversight Committee hearing, where Cobert was testifying.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the committee’s top Democrat, bashed Vitter’s move.
"As we all know, Republicans are threatening to block anyone the president nominates to the Supreme Court for political reasons,” he said. “In the same way, they are stalling Ms. Cobert's nomination despite the fact that she has been widely praised for turning things around at the agency.”
“This is outrageous,” he added.
Even Chaffetz, perhaps the OPM's most frequent congressional critic, came to Cobert’s defense.
“I find her to be a very competent person who is a breath of fresh air who actually has the background to run this agency,” Chaffetz said. “I want to be one that's counted as supporting her nomination, and I think that the country will be better off — the government will be better off — confirming her presence and allowing her to be the director fully confirmed as soon as possible.
“I am saying it publicly,” he added. “I will put it in writing. I believe Mrs. Cobert has the right qualifications. I think the country and the office will be better off with her confirmation.”
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this month approved Cobert’s nomination, a week after holding a hearing during which Cobert received high praise from both sides of the aisle.