PERRY/Dems go nuclear
Wednesday, November 27, 2013 12:00 AM
Last week, the U.S. Senate went nuclear. No, there is no fall out cloud over the Capitol. Democrats used a procedure to change Senate rules without getting the two-thirds vote required. The Democratic majority used a point of order, which only requires a simple majority to support, to determine only a simple majority of the Senate is sufficient to move forward with presidential nominations for the executive and judicial branches (not including the Supreme Court, yet) rather than the 60-vote threshold to end debate.
The term "nuclear option" was coined by then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. As he explains in his book "Herding Cats" the phrase "first came from my lips - at least according to some reporters and pundits. What happened, as I recall, is that a reporter told me the Democrats would go nuclear if we tried this ploy. Well, fine, I responded, let 'em go nuclear. In any event, political journalists embraced the term, predicting that the Democrats would pull down the Senate walls and bring the body to a standstill rather than submit to what we were doing."
When Democrats were blocking consideration of several nominations by President George W. Bush, Republicans then in the majority in the Senate considered this technique to overcome Democrats' obstruction. Then Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called this technique "un-American" and said it would "remove the last check in Washington against complete abuse of power" and said he would never consider doing this. He said if Republicans used this technique, "it's not only wrong, they will rue the day they did it."
Senator Barack Obama said, "for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to shut down and keep quiet... then the fighting and the bitterness will only get worse...We need to rise above the 'ends justifies the means' mentality...if the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party...I fear the already partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned ...it certainly isn't what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind."
Now Reid, supported by President Obama, has initiated this "un-American" and poisonous move.
There is plenty of hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle on this issue. Republicans complained about Republican nominees being blocked and Democrats said it was their right to do it; now Democrats complain about Democratic nominees being blocked and Republicans are angered to have their ability to block nominations removed.
For the sake of the judiciary some change had to be made. There were better reform choices: properly approved rules changes with a guarantee of consideration (confirmation or rejection) after a certain time period. There has been little will on either side to make these reforms. But now the rules have changed, so what does that mean for the future.
When one party controls the White House and a simple majority of the Senate, nominees need not be as palatable to the other side. Nominees may be more conservative or more liberal; they may have less experience or have a partisan background abhorred by the other side. Presidents sometimes don't pick their ideal choice because that person could not get to sixty votes, so they would select a compromise candidate. If their party controls the Senate, even by a slim margin, that is no longer necessary.
Moderates in both parties have a stronger seat at the table and special interest groups will target them and their decisions. Prior to the nuclear change, a nominee needed to appeal to both parties which assumed reaching the moderates in their own party. Now the moderates are the most a nominee needs to stray from the base of the party.
Nominees to the Supreme Court were not included in this rule change. But they will be as soon as one side or the other needs them to be.
Had this rule change happened under President George W. Bush, Charles Pickering would have been confirmed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals without need for a recess appointment. Mississippi attorney Mike Wallace would likely be on the federal bench somewhere. And Meridian attorney Rick Barry would be a federal district judge rather than Carlton Reeves of Jackson.
Elsewhere, Miguel Estrada would be on the D.C. Circuit; Henry Saad would be on the Sixth Circuit; William Myers would be on the Ninth Circuit.
A majority of the current Senate has only known a Democratic majority and a Republican minority. When Republicans take control, and if they retake the White House, many Democrats - in the words of Reid - will rue the day this rule change was made. Meanwhile, Republicans - now enraged - will rejoice at the opportunity Democrats have given them.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.