Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., had blocked more than 80 presidential nominations now before the Senate, but tonight he relented, saying he had simply been trying "to get the White House's attention" on two important national security issues related to his state.
Shelby had blocked the nominations by using a procedural tactic called a "hold," which allows individual senators to block votes on presidential nominations. But Shelby's spokesman, John Graffeo, says he will drop "most" of his holds.
Graffeo told ABC News that the purpose of placing the holds were to "get the White House's attention on two issues that are critical to our national security -- the Air Force's aerial refueling tanker acquisition and the FBI's Terrorist Device Analytical Center (TEDAC)." Both issues were unrelated to the nominations, and the latter regarded the Obama administration's decision not to move an FBI lab to Shelby's home state of Alabama.
"With that accomplished, Shelby has decided to release his holds on all but a few nominees directly related to the Air Force tanker acquisition until the new Request for Proposal is issued," Graffeo said.
Currently there are more than 80 presidential nominations hanging in the balance, including the undersecretary of defense for military readiness and top officials at the Departments of State and Homeland Security. Shelby had opposed and blocked every pending presidential nomination.
Shelby's office defended the senator's decision to call attention to the tanker acquisition and the FBI facility, saying that neither was an "earmark."
"The Air Force tanker acquisition is not an "earmark" as has been reported; it is a competition to replace the Air Force's aging aerial refueling tanker fleet. Sen. Shelby is not seeking to determine the outcome of the competition; he is seeking to ensure an open, fair and transparent competition that delivers the best equipment to our men and women in uniform," Graffeo said.
"Nor is the TEDAC a so-called earmark; it is a facility specifically requested by the Department of Justice and the FBI. They need such a facility to forensically examine Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) from Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, and elsewhere, including the device the Christmas Day bomber was wearing," said Graffeo. "Sen. Shelby is fully justified in his concern that the Obama administration is seeking to rescind funds already appropriated for this vital national security purpose."
The statement came after news reports said Shelby had placed a blanket hold on all of the president's nominees.
While that Republican roadblock has been cleared, the president still faces many hurdles.
Republicans say they are against resuscitating the current Democratic-backed health care legislation passed in the House and Senate late last year.
On Saturday, President Obama invited Republicans and Democrats to a health care summit later this month.
"I think that what I want to do is to look at the Republican ideas that are out there and I want to be very specific: How do you guys want to lower costs? How do you guys intend to reform the insurance markets so people with pre-existing conditions, for example, can get health care? How do you want to make sure that the 30 million people who don't have health insurance can get it? What are your ideas specifically?" Obama told CBS News' Katie Couric on Sunday.