The nomination of legal scholar Cass Sunstein to head the government's top regulatory office has stalled in the Senate amid farm and ranching groups' concerns about Sunstein's past advocacy of animal rights.
President Obama tapped Sunstein, a Harvard law professor, to head the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which clears, revises or rejects new regulations proposed by the major federal agencies.
The nomination is among about two dozen that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., last week accused Republicans of holding up. Some Democratic aides and senators said. Republicans are blocking the nominations collectively to protest Democrats' push for quick confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor or to hinder the administration.
"Everyone knows what is going on," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. "You are trying to make the administration as crippled as you possibly can by limiting the number of people you have."
But Sunstein's case appears to be an example of individual senators with specific, local concerns using their power to hold up a nominee.
In May, nine farm and ranch groups that produce products such as milk and veal -- including the American Farm Bureau Federation -- wrote to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and others to "express concern" about three academic papers in which Sunstein urged regulation of animals used in industries, including agriculture.
The letter included a paper in which Sunstein raised the possibility of animals winning the right to be plaintiffs in lawsuits. Noting that "the U.S. animal agriculture has long done political and social battle with the animal rights movement," the groups asked senators to seek assurances from Sunstein that he does not plan to regulate animal husbandry.
Roberts said he raised that question in a meeting with Sunstein last week and came away confident Sunstein does not plan such regulations. Roberts said he still might vote against Sunstein but had not placed a hold on the nomination. He also said he has not insisted on a roll call vote, as one Democratic aide tracking the process said.
On May 20, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., cast the only vote against Sunstein in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee after what aides from both parties said was an uneventful hearing.
In a speech Wednesday, Reid cited holds on Sunstein and Census Director-designate Robert Groves as examples of unprecedented GOP obstruction. Aides on both sides of the aisle said the Groves hold appears to be based on concerns that Mormons on overseas missions might be inadequately counted. The hold was not placed by Utah senators, aides said.
Republican staffers noted many nominees Reid cited only recently reached the floor and were held up only a few days while senators reviewed their records.
Carrie Dann contributed to this report.