by Max Brantley
The delay had nothing to do with her qualifications, which were impeccable. It had everything to do with Washington. She was a pawn in its power games and partisanship.You tell me how using a qualified person as a pawn in a vindictive act against the president demonstrates respect. It is a mean, pinched world in which Tom Cotton lives — a world where hurricane victims are punished so that he may make a political point. Where caseloads in important courts stack up so he may make a point. And where a good woman died in disappointment so that he could score a political point.
At one point Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, had a “hold” on all political nominees for State Department positions, partly as a way of punishing President Obama for the Iran nuclear deal.
At another point Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, put a hold specifically on Butts and on nominees for the ambassadorships to Sweden and Norway. He had a legitimate gripe with the Obama administration over a Secret Service leak of private information about a fellow member of Congress, and he was trying to pressure Obama to take punitive action. But that issue was unrelated to Butts and the Bahamas.
Cotton eventually released the two other holds, but not the one on Butts. She told me that she once went to see him about it, and he explained that he knew that she was a close friend of Obama’s — the two first encountered each other on a line for financial-aid forms at Harvard Law School, where they were classmates — and that blocking her was a way to inflict special pain on the president.
Cotton’s spokeswoman did not dispute Butts’s characterization of that meeting, and stressed, in separate emails, that Cotton had enormous respect for her and her career.
That’s Washington for you. Deeply admiring someone is supposed to be a consolation for — and not a contradiction of — using him or her as a weapon.Respect indeed.
When Butts died on May 25 — she had acute leukemia, but didn’t know it and hadn’t felt ill until just beforehand — the Bahamas had gone without an ambassador for 1,647 days.
“All Cassandra wanted to do was serve her country,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, told me. “Looking back, it is devastating to think that through no fault of her own, she spent the last 835 days of her life waiting for confirmation.”
With her Harvard degree and, later, her connection to Obama, she could have turned to the private sector and really cashed in. That wasn’t her way. She worked for various Democratic office holders on Capitol Hill, for the N.A.A.C.P.’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, for the Center for American Progress and for Obama, including as deputy White House counsel.
Butts knew that she wouldn’t be instantly confirmed as an ambassador, her sister told me, but never expected such an enduring limbo. Some friends advised her to give up. That wasn’t her way, either.
I learned the details of her situation when I found myself at a dinner with her in Chapel Hill, N.C., where we both attended college. As she told the story, I kept looking for signs of anger and disgust, but she’d clearly worked past any such emotions.
Instead she communicated something like bemused resignation. I was glad for her that she’d reached that point. I was sorry for the rest of us. We should never be resigned to this dysfunctional pettiness, and there’s nothing amusing about it.