By TJ Mayes
Harry Reid finally went nuclear. The filibuster may no longer be used for presidential appointments to the executive branch or courts other than the Supreme Court. This has been decried as a “dangerous” maneuver that “poisons the well” of bipartisan cooperation and defended as a necessary counterweight to Republican obstruction.
There was discussion of a Republican Senate pulling the trigger on a similar proposal in 2005 because Democrats were holding up President Bush’s nominees. This has given us rich evidence of hypocrisy from leaders of both parties. As Chris Hayes tweeted: “Everyone’s a hypocrite on process.” Value-neutral. No judgment because, hey, his team wins this one.
This entire episode shows a disgusting degree of shameless hypocrisy from politicians and commentators from both parties. They don’t even disagree that they are hypocrites, so long as the other team gets tagged for being bigger hypocrites. The problem is that we’re not talking about a sporting event, as Politico would lead us to believe. The real question shouldn’t be who wins or who loses, but rather what is the most effective manner with which to design a government whose powers are separate.
The Senate advise and consent function was designed as an “excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity.” It was not designed so that the minority party of the Senate could prevent a president from filling vacant posts in his administration or the courts because that party’s base didn’t like the outcome of an election.
The trend toward partisanship has been well documented. The Internet, subjective media outlets, redistricting, and other contributing factors have removed any incentive that may have once existed to cooperate across the aisle. This became pronounced during the Bush 43 era and has flourished madly since President Obama was elected. The filibuster, that odd procedure that is probably a holdover from Parliament, only exacerbates this problem
The nuclear option became necessary evil in an age where the filibuster has been abused to such a startling extent. Perhaps calling the maneuver nuclear is a misnomer. It’s not as if the Democrats can now ram through President Obama’s nominees at will:
The problem is that, while reducing the number of votes required to invoke cloture (to end debate on a nominee) from 60 to 51, the exceptionally cumbersome cloture motion process itself still exists.
So, assuming there’s no way to get unanimous consent from Republicans to get to a vote (or anything else), Reid will still have to file a cloture motion to end debate on a nominee. And, yes, now he’ll get the simple majority he needs to win that vote.
But, under existing rules, there can still be 30 hours of Senate debate on each appeals court and cabinet level nominee. Sub-cabinet nominees get eight hours and district court nominees get two hours. That means the Senate floor could be locked up for an entire day — no other business (hearings, other matters) conducted — over a nominee.
Checks and balances remain, the president will have more leeway in fulfilling his constitutional prerogative, and Senate rules retain madden inefficiencies.