Returning to the bad old days of the filibuster
This summer, Senate Democrats seemed poised to invoke the “nuclear option” to prevent Republicans from filibustering important Obama administration nominees. Majority Leader Harry Reid drew back at the last minute when Republicans allowed a handful of nominees to be confirmed on up-or-down votes. “We have a new start for this body, and I feel very comfortable with it,” Reid said.
Reid obviously spoke too soon. On Thursday, Senate Republicans were up to their old tricks, blocking votes on two nominees, one of them a respected Washington lawyer whom the president would like to put on the federal appeals court in Washington. It’s past time for Senate Democrats to go nuclear — Washington-speak for a parliamentary maneuver in which the vice president (who serves as president of the Senate) would rule that a simple majority vote is sufficient to end debate on a nomination.
This page supported the nuclear option when it was under consideration by the Republican-controlled Senate at a time when Democrats were filibustering President George W. Bush’s nominees. Now Republicans are the obstructionists, even when they have no quarrel with a nominee’s qualifications.
On Thursday, Republicans blocked a vote on Patricia Ann Millett’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on the pretext that the court is too large for its workload. The Republicans’ real problem with Millett and two other nominees to the D.C. Circuit is that their confirmation would probably shift that court, an influential tribunal that often has served as a steppingstone to the Supreme Court, to the left. What most Republicans seem unwilling to acknowledge is that liberal presidents usually appoint liberal judges, just as conservative presidents appoint conservative judges. That’s the way the system works. And if those judges are qualified, they should be approved by the Senate. As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) observed when he voted for Sonia Sotomayor, one of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees: “Judge Sotomayor is definitely a more liberal judge than a Republican president would have nominated, but elections have consequences.”
Contradicting his own principles, Graham joined 37 fellow Republicans in voting against a motion to invoke cloture on the Millett nomination. Fifty-five senators voted for the cloture motion — five shy of the required 60.
In the “Peanuts” comic strip, Charlie Brown never realized that Lucy couldn’t be trusted when she promised not to pull the football away at the last minute. We hope Harry Reid is quicker on the uptake and will recognize that a “new start” for the Senate requires triggering the nuclear option.
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