Every once in a while I like to highlight things that go on in Congress that don’t necessarily mean a whole lot or get much news coverage but help explain the place’s dysfunction. Consider the Senate’s consideration of Melissa Griffin Dalton, of Virginia, to be Under Secretary of the Air Force. She was confirmed to the position in a 56-39 roll call vote on May 23rd. Only eight Republicans supported her. That wouldn’t have been enough votes to overcome a filibuster, which requires three-fifths (sixty percent) of senators voting. Except, on the cloture vote to kill the filibuster one additional Republican (Josh Hawley of Missouri) didn’t vote. As a result, the 56-38 roll call rounded up from 59.5 percent and met the burden.

To be clear, Sen. Hawley allowed the confirmation vote to happen but switched his vote to oppose Dalton when the vote subsequently occurred. He allowed the position to be filled, but wanted it known that he didn’t support the person selected to fill it. Why was Dalton’s nomination handled in this way? When I tell you, you’ll think it’s silly.

Dalton has a B.A. undergraduate degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and a M.A. in international relations from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He started out as a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst before earning a job in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. She oversaw policy in Syria and Lebanon before being promoted to senior advisor to the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. She left government during the Trump years to work as a deputy director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.. Biden tapped her to serve as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities. In that role she also managed the Nuclear Posture Review. In 2022, she was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs.

During this career advancement she faced no opposition from Republicans. But while she was serving in the latter position overseeing homeland defense and the border, two things happened that irked members of the GOP. The first is that a Chinese spy balloon entered U.S. territory was allowed to traverse the entire country before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina. It later was determined by the Pentagon that the balloon had flown off course and did not collect or transit data back to China during its journey, but that was presumed to be its purpose at the time. While the balloon was in the air over the continental United States, U.S. Northern Command head Gen. Glen VanHerck’s advised that it was risky to shoot it down over populated areas and the best way to handle the situation was to wait for it to go out to sea. Yet, when Dalton sat for her confirmation hearing, she was held responsible for this decision.

Elsewhere in the hearing conservative lawmakers criticized Dalton for the Biden administration’s decision to allow what it said was a Chinese spy balloon last year to traverse North America before shooting it down off the coast of South Carolina. Dalton was an advisor to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the process, though she said advice to not to shoot down the balloon over US territory was offered by “senior military officials.”

“This is an area which you will be challenged, on this particular one, because it’s a question of judgment and recommendations being made,” [South Dakota Senator Mike] Rounds told Dalton. “Between now and the time that a vote is held on your nomination, I think you’ve got some work to do to regain the confidence of a lot of the members on this committee.”

If this seems like a dumb reason to oppose her nomination to be Under Secretary of the Air Force, that’s because it’s completely unfair and concerns a national security risk that turned out to be a big nothingburger. The second bug up the GOP’s arse is they felt Dalton took her sweet time responding to an inquiry about leftover supplies for President Trump’s idiotic unfinished border wall. You know, the wall the Mexican government was supposed to finance…

In March 2023, Republican senators on the Armed Services committee sent Dalton a letter requesting information on unused border materials that were acquired under the Trump administration but warehoused by Biden. Dalton did not respond until Aug. 1, the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Roger Wicker, said today, by which time the DoD had moved to auction off the materials.

If you’re laughing, that’s because it’s funny that the Biden administration auctioned off Trump’s border wall materials. But, again, despite her portfolio including border security, Dalton wasn’t involved in the decision on the wall’s unused materials.

Dalton told the committee today that though the border wall issue was not in her portfolio, she embarked on a “fact-finding mission across the [Defense] Department” to muster a response since senators originally directed the questions to her. The fate of the materials, she said, was ultimately handled by the Defense Logistics Agency.

So, Republican senators directed an inquiry to the wrong person and were angry when it took too long for this person to gather information for a response.

Even assuming the Republican senators are correct that Dalton slow-walked her response, the normal way to handle this is get assurances from Dalton that she’ll be prompt on future inquiries in her new role at the Air Force. Punishing her because of their fetish for Trump’s border wall is misplaced and petty. To demonstrate how deep this sickness is with the GOP, even Mitt Romney supported the filibuster and opposed her confirmation.

But it was performative, because the filibuster could have been sustained if Senate Republicans were actually serious about blocking her. But they weren’t serious. They just wanted to find a new way to fluff up their feathers and act as if they’re really mad.

This is how Congress works now. Uncontroversial , well-credentialed and non-political nominees who have served in both Republican and Democratic administrations are muddied up by Republicans just to score cheap political points that hardly anyone will notice. When Dalton was confirmed to her prior position at the Pentagon, it passed on a unanimous voice-vote because there was no reason to oppose her. That’s what should have happened here with her appointment for Under Secretary of the Air Force. Instead, she suffered the indignity of having 39 Republicans say she’s unfit for the job.

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