The Cable

30 hours of Brownback v. Hill?

It could be a good night for pizza delivery at the Capitol.

With a cloture vote expected possibly later tonight on the nomination of Chris Hill to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq, an aide to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) says the Kansas Republican plans to use all 30 hours of debate time allotted to describe his objections to Hill's confirmation. Sen. Brownback won't yield a single minute, the aide says, unless the Senate agrees to debate Brownback's proposal for sanctions against North Korea.

Brownback was among a group of Republican Senators who wrote President Obama last month to voice their objections to Hill, the outgoing assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and the former Bush administration's envoy to the Six Party talks on North Korea. "We found aspects of Ambassador Hill's most recent work in the Six Party Talks for North Korean nuclear disarmament to be deeply troubling," Brownback, Sen. Kit Bond (R-KS), Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) wrote. "Whatever one thinks about the overall thrust of the Bush administration's North Korea policy, Ambassador Hill engaged in evasive and unprofessional activities, including sidelining key officials at the State Department and breaking commitments made for the record before congressional committees."

Some Democratic foreign policy hands said the conservative Republicans may be taking revenge for Congressional Democrats' past refusal to confirm Bush's pick to be ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who happens to be a particular antagonist of Hill's diplomatic approach to the North Korea nuclear challenge.

But a Democratic Senate foreign policy aide disagreed. "This is all about Brownback's personal pique at Hill for what Brownback views was a flawed North Korea policy at the end of the Bush administration."

He suggested that Brownback may be doing this to energize his bid for Kansas Governor in 2010, "especially the need to energize evangelicals concerned over North Korean human rights abuses."

"Not at all," said Brian Hart, a spokesman for Brownback. "There's not enough of a Korean community in Kansas to make that sort of impact."

Whatever the case, the Democratic Senate aide continued, "At a time when we are facing an economic meltdown, a housing collapse, a healthcare crisis, etc., it is incredibly selfish of Brownback to be taking 30 hours of time on the Senate floor to debate a nomination everyone knows will be overwhelmingly confirmed."

The Cable previously reported that the military top brass were eager to get Hill into place in Baghdad, so they could get some help. "It is key that an ambassador arrives to help address important policy issues and begins interfacing with the senior leaders of the Government of Iraq," a spokesman for Gen. Raymond Odierno said.

Previous opposition to the Hill nomination from Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has seemingly subsided.

Brownback doesn't seem to mind having the spotlight all to himself. Aides also pointed to this Youtube video of Brownback's floor speech against Hill before the Easter recess.

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