Obama Nominee Dies While Waiting for Senate Confirmation

The Republican-controlled Senate has been described as a political graveyard for many of President Barack Obama’s nominees, with dozens of top picks still waiting to be confirmed even as the clock runs out on his second term and the 114th Congress.

But the analogy hit too close to home for some lawmakers this week when Cassandra Butts, a former top aide to Obama at the White House, died after waiting almost 1,000 days to be confirmed by the Senate.

Butts, a Harvard-educated lawyer and domestic policy expert, was Obama’s nominee to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas. Earlier, she served as deputy White House counsel in his administration. After her nomination in 2014, she was approved in committee in May 2015, but Butts was still waiting to be confirmed when she died from acute leukemia late last month at age 50.

Yet Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Butts remains in the Senate’s Executive Calendar among others still waiting confirmation.

Sen. Dick Durbin

“It is a sad reality as I stand here today and pick up this publication on the desk of every senator, the Executive Calendar of the Senate of the United States, turn to look at it closely, and find in this calendar, on page 5, the name of Cassandra Butts waiting for the Senate to approve her position as the Ambassador to the Bahamas,” Durbin said. “She waited and waited and waited, and eventually she passed away waiting on the Senate calendar to serve this country.”

Durbin said her qualifications were never at issue. But while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved a package of other long-stalled Obama nominees for ambassadorships a few weeks ago, the nomination of Butts was allowed to languish, he said.

“When the senators who had a hold on her [nomination] for all this period of time were asked why, ‘Why did you hold up this woman?’ one of them was very candid. He said, ‘We knew she was close to the president, and if we stopped her, we knew the president would feel the pain,’” Durbin said. “I hope today we all feel the pain that this lady can no longer have the distinction of ending her fabulous public career as our ambassador representing the United States in the Bahamas.”