The Senate Spectator

The Senate Spectator

Coming to Florida Soon — a U.S. Senate Race

By 3.14.16

My esteemed editor at TAS, Wlady Pleszczynski, rarely asks me for a column on a specific subject. He usually and kindly allows me to bang on about whatever is on my mind, which leads to uneven results. But he has now asked me for an update on the Florida U.S. Senate race, and this has proved more difficult than any of his previous requests. Difficult because as far as I, and the politically savvy folks I’ve consulted on this, can tell, there isn’t one yet. Maybe there will be one after that other election in Florida is done and dusted Tuesday. 

Usually an open U.S. Senate seat is a big political deal and attracts lots of media attention. Control of the U.S. Senate is indeed a big deal, not least because of the likelihood that the next President and Senate will have multiple Supreme Court vacancies to fill. Republicans currently have a majority of four in the U.S. Senate. But they must defend 24 seats this year to only 10 for the Democrats. 

The Senate Spectator

Harry Reid Smashes History

By 11.21.13

Harry Reid went and did it. He bent the rules to break them. In so doing, he effectively annihilated hundreds of years of procedural convention that has required a firm 60-vote majority to confirm presidential appointments. 

Now, the president’s executive branch and judicial nominees can slide through with a simple majority. Any opposition will prove toothless. This changes everything.

To put things in perspective, our friend Dan McCarthy at the American Conservative estimates this is the “biggest change to the institutional character of the Senate since the ratification of the 17th Amendment.” That might be an understatement. The conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues on the Hill imply that this is the single greatest revocation of the minority party’s deliberative rights in American history.

Yet for all the atomic analogies, the issue that prompted Reid’s decision may appear banal. The Majority Leader went nuclear over the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and three relatively low-profile nominees.

The Senate Spectator

Nuclear Politics

By 11.21.13

The Senate became less of a deliberative body today and more of a gilded, blue-carpeted rubber stamp as Harry Reid and most of the chamber’s Democrats voted to employ the “nuclear option,” eliminating the 60-vote requirement for cloture on most cabinet and judicial nominees. The Democratic majority leader did so with the full support of the president, who lauded the Senate’s decision. But this reversal of Senate precedent and tradition will likely beget further modification of rules in subsequent Congresses.

Reid’s decision appeared at first to be bravado, no different from his threats to use the nuclear option in 2012. But this week rumors swirled, stoked by congressional aides, that Reid was serious. Today he made good on his threats, leading a vote which ended the practice of filibustering nominees as we know it. 

The Senate Spectator

Questions for Janet Yellin

By and 10.31.13

Chairman of the Federal Reserve is arguably the most important unelected office in America. It wields enormous influence over the financial health of the nation, and indeed the world. So it is incumbent upon members of the Senate Banking Committee, which could hold confirmation hearings before the end of November, to ask the right questions of the President’s Fed nominee, Janet Yellen. Professor Yellen is clearly qualified, having held the number two position at the Fed under current chairman Ben Bernanke, and has previously chaired the San Francisco Federal Reserve. What is in question is the direction she will take monetary policy during the next four years.

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