Republicans warn Democrats they'll rue the day they decided to end the filibuster for executive and judicial appointments.
After Democrats invoked the so-called “nuclear option” Thursday to alter Senate rules so that the GOP would not be able to filibuster Obama’s presidential nominees, Republicans reacted as though Majority Leader Harry Reid had actually blown up the Senate.
“This is nothing more than a power grab,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the vote. “They broke the Senate rules in order to excercize a power grab.”
McConnell’s colleague, Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, was equally incensed. “This is the most important most dangerous restructing of the Senate rules since Thomas Jefferson wrote them at the beginning of our country,” Alexander told reporters after the vote. “It’s really not about the filibuster, it’s another raw exercise of political power to allow the majority to do whatever it wants to do.”
Alexander added. “It’s Obamacare 2, in that sense.”
Asked how Republicans would respond to the move, McConnell said, “I don’t think this is a time to talk about reprisal, I think it’s a time to be sad about what’s being done to the United States Senate, the greatest deliberative body in the world.”
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, however, hinted at his party’s response, telling reporters that Democrats “will pay a heavy, heavy price” for altering the Senate rules.
Both parties reached an agreement months ago to streamline the confirmation of Obama nominees, a pact Reid said Republicans have breached by blocking nominees to the influential DC Circuit court. Republicans have flatly opposed Obama nominating any judges to the court, seeking to preserve the court’s conservative tilt.
“Republicans simply don’t want President Obama to make any nominations to this vital court,” Reid said before the vote. “None! Zero!”The DC Circuit has jurisdiction a number of key regulatory matters–which means that it has a lot of influence over how much of Obama’s agenda survives legal challenges. Obama’s three most recent nominees to the DC Circuit were all filibustered by Republicans, with the rule change their confirmation is all but assured.
Opposing Reid’s attempt to kill the filibuster for executive and judicial nominations, Republicans were left making a number of contradictory arguments–that the rule change was both a “distraction” from the failure of the president’s health care law and an nefarious attempt to implement his regulatory agenda, a naked “power grab” but one Republicans will likely preserve if they retake the Senate.
During the Bush years, McConnell argued that by obstructing Bush nominees Democrats were trying to “reinterpret the Constitution to require a supermajority for confirmation.” On Thursday, he argued that if Americans wanted Obama to appoint judges or staff his administration they would have given him a supermajority. Reid, and Obama, for that matter, liked the filibuster a lot more when Democrats were in the minority.
Republicans’ increased use of the filibuster in recent years to block key appointments, however, has left Democrats with little choice if they want to actually place more judges on the federal bench. Republicans have warned that altering the Senate rules to make it easier for Obama to make appointments would come back to bite Democrats if the GOP ever retakes the Senate. But the same is true of allowing Republicans to prevent Obama from filling judicial vacancies that a Republican president would then be able to fill, skewing the federal courts even further to the right.
Democrats may live to regret the day they changed the Senate rules. But if they hadn’t changed them, regret would have been a certainty.
“The only cure for it that I know is an election,” Sen. Alexander said of Democrats’ actions after the vote. Now that the Senate rules have changed, those might start to matter again.