So Harry Reid finally did it. Frankly, I didn’t think he had the gumption. But it seems he’d finally had enough of the Republicans’ extended temper tantrum and took away their favorite toy — the filibuster of Obama administration nominees.
Now judicial and Cabinet nominees will need to be confirmed only by the simple “up or down vote” the Republicans were so fond of demanding during the years when it was Democrats filibustering Bush nominees.
The reaction was predictable, as the party that originally came up with the idea of the so-called “nuclear option” went into the usual hysterics. “Dictatorial,” tweeted Sen. Jeff Sessions. “A raw power grab by Senate Democrats and President Obama,” whined Lindsey Graham.
Right-wing pundits joined in as well. Rush Limbaugh referred to the rules change as “total statist authoritarianism” and compared it to a law allowing women to be raped. (Classy as always, Rush. How’s that Republican outreach to women voters going?) Charles Krauthammer went on Faux News and called the move “an example of the lawless way Obama has run the government.”
All of this might be more persuasive if they didn’t say the same thing about pretty much everything the president of the United States does.
It might also be more persuasive if there wasn’t so much footage of Republicans calling for exactly the same filibuster reform they just got. Limbaugh, for example, once called the filibuster “unconstitutional” and said a rules change like the one that just happened should properly be called the “constitutional option,” not the “nuclear” one. And you know what? He was right. Then, not now.
Accusations of hypocrisy aside, the way the filibuster’s been done for the past few years is a travesty, and it should have been done away with years ago. If we’d had an actual Jimmy Stewart-type filibuster, where you had to stand there and talk, it wouldn’t be such a problem, because there’d be some sort of limit to it.
It would end with some compromise, or withdrawal of the bill or nomination in question, or because the filibusterer gave up. That would delay action by the Senate, which in some cases is a good thing.
But the way it’s been done in the past few years, someone just had to say they’re going to filibuster and the bill or nomination died right then and there for lack of a super-majority. The traditional filibuster would help make the Senate, in words attributed to George Washington, the “cooling saucer” for legislation; the current rule stopped the tea from getting made in the first place.
And stop it the Republicans did, at an unprecedented and abusive rate. Sen. Reid presented a chart showing that 82 nominees had been blocked under President Obama, but 86 had been blocked under all the other presidents combined. The online fact checker Politifact weighed in and said that Sen. Reid’s graphic was wrong. The situation was actually worse.
“There were actually 68 individual nominees blocked prior to Obama taking office,” they calculated, “and 79 (so far) during Obama’s term, for a total of 147.” That means that so far, “blockages under Obama actually accounted for more than half of the total, not less than half. Either way, it’s disproportionate by historical standards.”
The Republicans made no bones about the fact that their obstructionism had nothing to do with nominees’ actual qualifications. For example, when a “60 Minutes” story about the Benghazi murders came out, Graham threatened to block every Obama nominee if he didn’t get another hearing to interrogate the survivors of the attack. When the story turned out to be a hoax, Graham said it didn’t matter, he was going to block the nominations anyway.
When the filibuster proves to be a tactic of extortion, spite and payback rather than an actual reflection on qualifications, then it needs to go, no matter who’s in power. Like every other privilege, when you abuse it, you lose it.
But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the filibuster of nominees is a vital part of the Senate and of democracy itself.
Let’s also assume, purely for the sake of argument, that the Republicans are going to retake the Senate next year as they claim. In that case, I call upon all Republican candidates to swear that they’ll reinstate the old filibuster rules on Day One, and every Republican to hold them to the promise.
Think they’ll do it?