Remember that fight a few months back over filibuster reform in the Senate, reform that took place as a result of the filibusters of three D.C. Circuit nominees? Well, the third of those nominees was confirmed earlier today, thus ending that particular saga…
The Senate confirmed one of President Barack Obama’s key judicial nominees on Monday, completing an overhaul of the country’s second most powerful court into one dominated by Democratic-appointed judges.
The Senate voted 55-43 to confirm Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. That gives Democratic appointees a 7-4 majority on the politically influential bench. The D.C. Circuit, second in clout only to the Supreme Court, hears appeals of White House actions and federal rules and regulations.
Wilkins’ confirmation is a fresh demonstration of Senate Democrats’ ability to push through most presidential nominations by a simple majority, thanks to a weakening of filibusters that they muscled through the chamber in November.(AP-Yahoo News)
For what its’ worth, I still think the Senate didn’t go far enough on filibuster reform but this is a start.
As I watched today’s vote in the Senate on changes to the rules concerning the filibuster, I couldn’t help but think of that phrase in the title of this post; it was doubly ironic to think of that phrase ’cause just before I turned the channel to watch the debate and vote on filibuster reform, I had been watching the HBO original film By Dawn’s Early Light and for a few minutes, I felt like the SAC general early on in the film who watches as the nuclear warheads draw closer & closer to Omaha and his destruction and I couldn’t help but wonder if Harry Reid and others in the Senate had that same feeling, as if they were watching a slow-motion train-wreck that they could not avoid…thus too was the mood in the Senate as, by a vote of 52-48, the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body voted to change the rules concerning the use of the filibuster, in particular the number of votes needed to invoke cloture and go to a final vote on judicial and executive nominees (excluding those to the High Court).
As Harry Reid put it prior to today’s vote…
“It’s time to change the Senate before the institution becomes obsolete,” Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday morning on the Senate floor ahead of the unprecedented alteration to centuries-old rules regarding the power of the minority party to contest Senate business.
“The need for change is so, so very obvious,” he said. “It’s manifest [that] we have to do something to change things.”(Real Clear Politics)
While we should applaud and celebrate the Senate’s decision today, over at Booman Tribune there are two reminders as to what today’s vote means, both now and in the future. For all intents-and-purposes, we are living in a new world, one where the majority now holds all the cards. Yes, this was a needed and necessary thing, the changes to the filibuster, but it now underscores the need for those of us who support liberal/progressive/Democratic causes to ensure now, more than ever, that Democrats’ keep the majority in the Senate ’cause God knows full well that Republicans will, now that the Rubicon has been crossed, change the rules themselves if need be..and we will have given them that weapon by today’s vote.
With remarks like these from Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) concerning Democratic efforts to confirm judicial nominees; quoting:
The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee dared Democrats to “go ahead” and eliminate the filibuster for nominees via the nuclear option, warning them that a 51-vote threshold would make it easier for a future GOP to appoint judges like Antonin Scalia.
“Many of those on the other side who are clamoring for rules change and almost falling over themselves to do it have never served a single day in the minority,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said Tuesday in a floor speech. “All I can say is this — be careful what you wish for.”
“So if the Democrats are bent on changing the rules, then I say go ahead,” he said. “There are a lot more Scalias and [Clarence] Thomases that we’d love to put on the bench. The nominees we’d nominate and put on the bench with 51 votes would interpret the constitution as it was written.”(Talking Points Memo)
I say it is well past time to end the filibuster rule for all nominations, period; Grassley knows damn well that Democrats’ never, to my knowledge, filibustered either Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas and even when they did attempt such a filibuster (on current Justice Samuel Alito) the Senate easily overcame that filibuster, so his words above smack of a schoolyard bully who’s had his way for way too long.
While there have been numerous appointments (judicial & executive) over the years that have been filibusters, almost every one has eventually gotten an up-or-down vote in the end. If Grassley and his Republican bullies are so hell-bent on denying President Obama the right to appoint judicial nominees of his choosing, then Senator Reid must step in and change the rules of the Senate.
I understand the historical and pragmatic reasons for not invoking the constitutional (or “nuclear”) option in the Senate, but surely there has to come a time where Harry Reid has to get up and say to the Republicans, “Enough!”
Senate Republicans voted to hold up a key federal appeals court nominee Thursday, daring Senate Democrats to invoke what is known as the nuclear option and change the Senate rules with a simple majority vote. Patricia Millett, a corporate lawyer who is among the most prominent and widely respected members of the Supreme Court bar, would have filled one of three seats on the second most powerful American court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.(Think Progress)
Republicans have shown, time and time again, that they do not care whether anything gets done in the Senate on executive and judicial appointments; it is past time for Senator Reid to invoke the nuclear option and get things rolling again in the world’s most deliberative body.
The more I read Greg Sargent’s Plum Line post from Thursday, July 11th, the more I’m starting to be convinced that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid(D-NV) is all-but-ready to pull the trigger on the nuclear option and bring the issue of Senate filibusters to a head early next week…
An important moment on the Senate floor just now: Harry Reid said he would be filing cloture today on a whole bunch of executive nominations, and challenged Republicans to act on them — a major escalation of the threat to change the Senate rules by simple majority, i.e, the “nuclear option.”
“We’re going to file cloture on a bunch of nominations, and those votes will occur next week when we schedule them,” Reid said, adding later that if no movement occurred on them, “we know what’s going to happen.”
According to a senior Senate Democratic aide, this means that Reid will file cloture on the following nominations today: Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Gina McCarthy as head of the Environmental Protection Agency; Obama’s picks to the National Labor Relations Board; and possibly Thomas Perez as Labor Secretary.
What this amounts to, really, is an effort to reshape the Democrats’ strategy as they head into a lunch today to determine whether they will exercise the nuclear option. (WaPo Plum Line)
Now, while there are, in all likelihood, a lot of Senate Dems'(Carl Levin of Michigan, for instance) who are weary of invoking the nuclear option, I really hope Searchlight Harry actually does pull the trigger on this: even when I was a conservative, I always believed that a president’s nominees, regardless of the president’s party and regardless of whether they be executive branch appointments OR judicial appointments, deserved fair and equitable hearings, followed by up-and-down votes by the full Senate, with a filibuster only being used (or the threat of a filbuster) in the direst of situations(for example, during the nomination of a Robert Bork-type nominee). That view hasn’t changed…what has changed, unfortunately, is the use and nature of the filibuster; I still remember when the late Jesse Helms used to “blue-slip” Bill Clinton’s nominees to the 4th Circuit Ct. of Appeals, basically declaring that, while he was in the Senate, no judicial nominee of the president’s for that circuit would ever go the floor. Then there are the anonymous filibusters, those wherein a senator simply voices their “concern” over a nominee and magically that nominee sees their chance at confirmation go right into the Potomac.
Now, I can understand Harry Reid’s reluctance, up-to-now, for not wanting to invoke the nuclear option, for both procedural and pragmatic concerns but there comes a point where the level and usage of the filibuster rises to the level where nothing can get done in the Senate for the need of a 60-vote majority and not a 51-seat majority. In this case, however, I think Harry Reid has pretty much had it with Senate Republicans and it will be interesting to see what transpires early next week when these cloture motions ripen.
Considering the nature and history of the United States history, it can’t be easy for Harry Reid to decide how to proceed on filibuster reform.
Why? As the filibuster is currently set up, they’re incredibly easy to put up(blue slips, holds, etc.) and incredibly hard to either get rid of or to get around…the problem Reid is facing is both structural and pragmatic. The structural problem comes from the rules of the Senate themselves, namely Senate Rule 22 which essentially provides for a one-man filibuster in that, under this rule, any Senator can object to anything and, under the rule, the Senate must spend an extra 30 legislative hours before they can even go to a vote itself….which pretty much explains why progressives have, for years, been calling on changes to the filibuster rule, namely changes to how filibusters may be implemented and when they may be called and the procedures for carrying out filibusters.
Then there’s the pragmatic side of filibuster reform. Several times in the past decade the Senate has been faced with the “constitutional option” where the majority, via. a simple majority vote, could override the Standing Rules of the Senate and change the filibuster rules right then and there. Only one problem though and it goes along with the Golden Rule, so to speak….namely the simple, unalterable fact of American politics that neither party really wants to force the issue of filibuster reform for fear, founded or otherwise, that those very same rules may be used against them down the road. Its’ the reason then-Majority Leader Bill Frist never pulled the trigger on such an option back in 2005 & 2006; the difference facing Harry Reid is that, unlike Frist, this change would be effected on the first legislative day of Senate activity, when changes to Senate rules can be made by a simple majority.
Hence the dilemma Reid faces…so the question remains: what will the Senate do? As the song says, “only time will tell”…