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.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was furious, insisting that Democrats had chosen to fight the filibuster in an effort to distract Americans from Obamacare’s very public failures. “Millions of Americans are hurting because of a law that Washington Democrats forced upon them, and what do they do about it?” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “They cook up some fake fight over judges, a fake fight over judges that aren't even needed.”
We took exactly the same view Senate Democrats took during the Bush Administration: that there was no rationale for increasing the membership of the DC Circuit. Exactly the same rationale, a letter signed by Schumer and Kennedy and others, saying there was no need for additional judges.
President Obama held a press conference shortly after the vote. He decried such filibusters “arcane procedural tactics,” even as he admitted that both parties have indulged them. He cast recent filibusters as being unprecedented and abnormal, escalating over the course of his presidency into something that is “not what our founders envisioned.”
During his brief remarks, Obama referred to every aspect of his agenda as “common-sense” and insisted that the Senate minority is obstructing it solely “because they opposed the policies that the American people voted for in the last election.” He bemoaned the fact that the Senate has been brought to the point where a “simple majority vote no longer seems to be sufficient for anything—even routine business through what is supposed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body.” It’s a rather contradictory statement, insofar as the cloture rules were part what made the Senate so deliberative.
“I want to be clear: the Senate has actually done some good bipartisan work this year,” said the president…referring to his party’s initiatives such as the Farm Bill, ENDA, and immigration reform bills. Ironically, President Obama supports filibustering when it fits his agenda, having earlier this year called Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’ attempt to block a proposed abortion restriction, “Something Special.”
For years, the two parties have had a gentleman’s agreement not to change the rules surrounding nomination filibusters, since the party in power knew that before long it might be out of power. That agreement his now been broken. If Republicans find success in the 2014 and 2016 elections, Harry Reid may rue this day.