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U.S. Sen. Gary Peters' office says the White House "should work with us" to fill positions, like U.S. attorney for Michigan's Western District, a post that has been without a Senate-confirmed nominee for about three years.

The office of the Bloomfield Township Democrat issued the statement on Tuesday, a day after The Detroit News reported that President Donald Trump's nominee for the job, former Michigan House Speaker Tom Leonard, was in jeopardy in the U.S. Senate.

"Sen. Peters takes very seriously the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to advise and consent on nominees," said Zade Alsawah, a Peters spokesman. "Our office remains willing to work with the White House to fill vacancies — which we have done repeatedly before. The White House should work with us as part of the traditional nominating process."

Peters and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, declined to meet with him, said Leonard, a DeWitt Republican and former county prosecutor who added that he was "disappointed" they had chosen to "block" his nomination. Peters was willing to meet with Leonard, Alsawah said. 

Stabenow said she opposed Leonard's nomination because of "deep policy differences," and Peters previously said he had "deep concerns."

The Trump White House has been criticized before about failing to consult Michigan's senators — about judicial nominations. In 2017, the Trump administration notified the offices of Peters and Stabenow without seeking input about the nomination of former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The vote on Larsen's nomination was slowed as Stabenow and Peters said they were seeking to exhaustively review her judicial record. Six months after Trump selected her, the Senate approved Larsen's nomination with the support of both Michigan senators.

Usually, the president's administration works with senators on selections for nominations in their states because the U.S. Senate uses a "blue slip" process that essentially requires home-state senators to sign off on nominations.

The White House didn't immediately provide a response on Tuesday to a question about Leonard's situation. But Jase Bolger, another GOP former Michigan House speaker who lives in the Western District, blasted Peters for allowing "partisan politics" to keep positions from being filled.

Bolger noted that the Western District also has an open judge position.

"They’re ultimately using partisan politics to block West Michigan from having representation," he said.

Trump nominated Leonard for U.S. attorney in August. The Senate didn't vote to confirm him by the end of 2019 so the nomination was returned to the president, who could renominate Leonard.

Leonard had received letters of support from two high-profile Democrats — Detroit Mayor Duggan and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

Peters' office has noted that it worked with the Trump administration to find nominees for other positions, including a judge for the Eastern District of Michigan and a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District.

Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis was nominated in March 2019 and confirmed by the Senate in late December 2019. Matthew Schneider, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District was nominated in June 2018 and confirmed in January 2019.

Republicans have targeted Peters, who's up for reelection, over his handling of Leonard's nomination.

"It is deeply troubling that western Michigan will have to go even longer without a federal prosecutor because of Peters’ partisan pandering," Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox said. "Michiganders deserve better in the U.S. Senate than a career politician who puts party first."

The fact that Leonard didn't get a Senate confirmation vote by the end of 2019 wasn't surprising, said Victoria Bassetti, a former Democratic staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Bassetti said the length of time Michigan's Western District has gone without a Senate confirmed U.S. attorney is unusual and signaled a "breakdown in communications" between Michigan's senators and the White House.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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