Fix the Senate Now

Fix the Senate Now Applauds Ongoing Bipartisan Discussion on Senate Rules Reform

NYT Article Latest Evidence of Momentum Behind Reform; Fix the Senate Now Calls on Sen. Alexander to Engage All Senate Reform Champions Earlier in Proposed Reform Process


Washington, DC – The Fix the Senate Now coalition applauds the ongoing bipartisan discussion on U.S. Senate rules reform and the growing bipartisan consensus that the Senate can, and should, be made more functional.

A New York Times article by Carl Hulse is the latest evidence of momentum behind a bipartisan rules reform effort. The Times article highlights a plan from Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to “[u]se the next few months to develop, debate and approve proposals to make the Senate more efficient, but then agree not to institute the changes until 2017 — after next year’s election” and “[w]ith no certainty about which party will win the majority next November…” An earlier article by The Hill’s Alex Bolton quoted Sen. Alexander saying: “I argued at the time [in 2011 and 2013] that what we needed was a change of behavior more than a change of rules. But I’ve changed my mind about that. And I think the world around us has changed and that the Senate itself has changed and that we probably need a change in rules.”

In light of the renewed discussion around Senate changes, rules reform champion Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) recently said to Talking Points Memo that he was “pleased” that many others agree with “the need to modernize the Senate’s rules to restore the Senate’s ability to debate and deliberate.”

While the Times article is a positive indication about real momentum behind Senate reform, it does outline a less than ideal process – Sen. Alexander only plans on engaging longtime Senate reform champions Senators Merkley and Tom Udall (D-NM) after first presenting recommended Senate reforms to Senate Republicans. Due to Sen. Merkley and Udall’s leadership and specific thinking on the subject of Senate reforms, the Fix the Senate Now coalition hopes that their expertise and proposed reforms can be brought into the critical discussion about recommendations earlier than the scenario outlined in the article.

As a coalition, Fix the Senate Now supports reforms similar to those outlined in the 2013 Senate Resolution 4 package from Senators Merkley and Udall, as well as former Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) (summary available here). From eliminating the filibuster on the motion to proceed to reviving the notion of a “talking filibuster” to other ways of raising the costs of Senate obstruction, there are numerous reforms that could help the Senate move in a more functional direction and should be included in Senator Alexander’s proposed process from the earliest stages.


For more information or to interview leaders from the Fix the Senate Now coalition, contact Michael Earls at media@fixthesenatenow.org

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Fix the Senate Now Applauds Renewed Bipartisan Discussion on Senate Rules Reform

Washington, DC – The Fix the Senate Now coalition applauds the renewed bipartisan discussion on U.S. Senate rules reform and the emerging bipartisan consensus that the Senate can, and should, be made more functional.


A recent article in The Hill by Alex Bolton highlights that Senate Republicans are “opening the door” to reforming the filibuster, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set to appoint a task force to examine potential Senate reforms. The article highlights how Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a past opponent of Senate rules reform, has started to shift his thinking. The story quotes Sen. Alexander saying:


“We’re going to take a serious look at whether Senate rules ought to be changed in order to make the Senate work more effectively” … “I argued at the time [in 2011 and 2013] that what we needed was a change of behavior more than a change of rules. But I’ve changed my mind about that. And I think the world around us has changed and that the Senate itself has changed and that we probably need a change in rules.”


In light of the renewed discussion around Senate changes, rules reform champion Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said to Talking Points Memo that he was “pleased” that:


“Senate leadership is taking seriously the need to modernize the Senate’s rules to restore the Senate's ability to debate and deliberate … As I said on the floor recently, with the control of the Presidency and the Senate after 2016 up in the air, now is the perfect time to talk about what rules will make the Senate work better for both the majority and the minority.  I look forward to continuing that dialogue.”


From eliminating the filibuster on the motion to proceed to reviving the notion of a “talking filibuster” to other ways of raising the costs of Senate obstruction, numerous reforms could help the Senate move in a more functional direction. As a coalition, Fix the Senate Now supports reforms similar to those outlined in the 2013 Senate Resolution 4 package from Senators Merkley, Udall, and Harkin (summary available here).


While the specifics of the reform ideas – and when they should be implemented – are critical questions that will be determined, the renewed bipartisan focus on the topic is a positive development.  



For more information or to interview leaders from the Fix the Senate Now coalition, contact Michael Earls at media@fixthesenatenow.org


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Why Sen. McConnell Should Advance Qualified Judicial Nominees in the Senate

Washington, DC – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claims that under his leadership, the U.S. Senate is operating smoothly and in better accordance to its historical traditions. For example, in April, Senator McConnell said, “I think the way the Senate’s being run is very positive,” while claiming that, “a significant number of Democrats who have come over to me frequently and say, ‘Thank you for changing the way the Senate is operating.”


Yet when it comes to judicial nominees, Senator McConnell’s role in blocking and delaying confirmations is directly at odds with a functional Senate and the chamber’s best, historical traditions. In fact, the Senate has confirmed only 5 judges so far in 2015. The last time the Senate confirmed fewer than 10 judges in a single year was in 1953, when it confirmed only 9.


According to statistics compiled from the Alliance for Justice (AFJ), since the Republicans took control of the Senate in January, the number of judicial vacancies has increased from 43 to 63 and the number of "judicial emergencies" (designation for courts that don’t have enough judges to handle the volume of caseloads) has more than doubled, increasing from 12 to 28.

The most recent occasion when the Senate was in the hands of the opposite party of a second-term president was in 2007, when Democrats had control of the Senate during George W. Bush’s final two years in the White House. Yet the judicial nomination process was much smoother by comparison. By this point in 2007, Senate Democrats had confirmed 25 circuit court and district court judges. In fact, during the last two years of the George W. Bush administration, the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed 68 judges in total.

As Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein recently assessed:

“There’s simply no precedent for the Senate flat-out refusing to act on (most) nominations. It means poor government, mismanagement, justice delayed -- and therefore justice denied … It is the Senate's duty to defeat judicial nominees it believes (within reason) are outside the mainstream, and it absolutely should exercise the leverage it is given by the Constitution to secure influence over executive branch departments and agencies through confirmations. That’s not what’s happening here. McConnell and the Republicans are undermining the constitutional order by simply ignoring their responsibilities. That's a big deal, and the press and anyone who cares about a functional government should be angry.


Underscoring Bernstein’s point is the fact that Senator McConnell has even delayed confirmation votes for non-controversial nominees who end up passing with unanimous support – the height of delay for delay’s sake. For example, the only circuit court nominee confirmed in 2015, Kara Farnandez Stoll, waited more than two months on the Senate calendar before her 95-0 confirmation vote. Meanwhile, 5 U.S. Court of Federal Claims nominees remain pending on the Senate calendar. After Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) tried to get unanimous consent to approve these nominations earlier this week, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) blocked the request, despite the court’s chief judge urging the Senate “to fill at the earliest opportunity the five vacancies pending on our court.”


In 2008, McConnell said, “even with lame-duck Presidents, there is a historical standard of fairness as to confirming judicial nominees, especially circuit court nominees,” and noted that, “No party is without blame in the confirmation process, but what is going on now – or, more accurately, what is not going on – is yet another step backward in politicizing the confirmation process–something we had all hoped we would get beyond.”


We agree. Senator McConnell should live up to his past words and stated desire to preside over a functional Senate by advancing qualified judicial nominees without additional delay.


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Fix the Senate Now Thanks Sen. Harry Reid for Nov. 2013 Rules Reform

Washington, DC – In response to the news that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will not run for reelection, the Fix the Senate Now coalition issued the following statement:
 
“Among the most important and timeless components of Senator Reid’s legacy will be the November 2013 Senate rules reform that he helped shepherd through the upper chamber.

Thanks to Senator Reid’s leadership and the tireless work of reform minded Senators and outside supporters, the Senate adopted sensible reforms to move the chamber back closer to its historical roots. As even Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell – then the leader of the Republican Senate Minority – now states, ‘it’s long been historical precedent that a simple majority of senators – not 60 – have been able to confirm presidential nominees.’

Senator Reid’s leadership directly led to the confirmation of dozens of executive branch and judicial nominees, strengthening the health of the Senate and the basic workings of government. Further, Senator Reid’s example makes viable future Senate reforms to keep moving the chamber in a functional direction closer to the framers’ intentions.”
 


For more information or to interview leaders from the Fix the Senate Now coalition, contact Michael Earls at media@fixthesenatenow.org

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Thank You Harry Reid & Senate Rules Reform (and Yes, Ted Cruz)

Senate Finally Confirms Dozens of Backlogged & Qualified Nominees Before Shutting Its Doors 

Washington, DC – The Fix the Senate Now coalition expresses gratitude to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Senate Democratic caucus for prioritizing and confirming dozens of nominees in recent days. We also extend special thanks to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) for his role in helping to advance the nominations (though it may not have exactly been his intention).

Most notably, the dozens of new confirmations offer a reminder of the importance of last November’s Senate rules reforms. In November 2013, prodded by this coalition and many reform-minded Senators, the chamber adopted sensible reforms that provided an up-or-down vote for most presidential and judicial nominations. This moved the Senate back toward its historical roots. As even Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell now states, “it’s long been historical precedent that a simple majority of senators – not 60 – have been able to confirm presidential nominees,” as Politico reports.

In large part because of last year’s reforms, the Senate has confirmed 69 of President Obama’s nominees since last Friday alone, per the Los Angeles Times. This total includes dozens of qualified nominees who were stuck in limbo due to a Republican strategy of obstruction and time-wasting that persisted independent from the merits of individual nominees. As Jeremy Peters notes in the New York Times, after the flurry of confirmations in recent weeks:

“The Senate has now confirmed 41 of the president’s nominees with fewer than 60 votes. Many were named to powerful positions that would have prompted filibusters in the past.”

Among the nominees finally receiving their long-awaited vote in recent days was Tom Hicks, one of three new Commissioners voted onto the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) last night.  Hicks had waited since April 2010 for his vote – making him the longest waiting nominee in this administration.  Now, with its newly reestablished quorum in place, a fully-functional EAC will again be able to advance new technological recommendations to better serve state and local election administrators. 

The story is the same across many executive branch agencies – the newly confirmed nominees mean that more agencies, boards, and departments are fully functional and capable of fulfilling their stated missions.

In the judicial arena, Senate rules reform has had a similarly positive effect. As Jen Bendery writes in the Huffington Post:  

“The numbers speak for themselves.  Prior to filibuster reform, Obama got 45 judges confirmed in 2013 and 49 judges confirmed in 2012.  He's nearly doubled those numbers in the last year.”

Al Kamen and Paul Kane reach a similar consensus in the Washington Post, writing:

“Senate Democrats’ move last year to eliminate filibusters on most nominations — it now takes only a simple majority to confirm — has helped President Obama dramatically increase his impact on the federal judiciary for years to come…

With the last dozen pending judicial nominees confirmed Tuesday night, the filibuster change has boosted his total judicial confirmations this year to 89, by far his highest yearly total and the second highest of the last three presidents (President Clinton had 100 confirmed in 1994, President Bush’s high was 72 in 2002.)”


 For more information or to interview leaders from the Fix the Senate Now coalition, contact Michael Earls at media@fixthesenatenow.org

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The Senate Should Move Election Assistance Commission Nominees Forward Before Shutting Its Doors

Washington, DC – While heartened by reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is planning to make significant progress on pending nominations before shuttering the Senate of the 113th Congress, the Fix the Senate Now coalition calls on Senators to ensure that nominees to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) are included in any package of nominations moving forward.   

As we noted earlier this week, Senate Democrats should not reward Republicans’ persistent obstruction by ending this Senate until they have significantly reduced the record number of approximately 130 nominees still pending on the Executive Calendar. As Burgess Everett of Politico reports, Senate Democrats agree and are planning to move a package of nominees forward. As Everett writes, “If they hold their caucus together, Democrats can unilaterally prevail and approve Vivek Murthy to be surgeon general, Sarah Saldana to lead Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Carolyn Colvin to be Social Security administrator as well as nine remaining judicial nominees.” Everett quotes Senate Majority Leader Reid saying, “I’ve given a list to Republicans. It’s up to them to decide how long we stay.”

Here’s why the EAC should be included in any package of nominations moving forward: currently, the EAC does not have a single commissioner in place, so there is no quorum to make any decisions on matters of policy, although it still has a staff in place.

Created in 2002 to avoid another election like the debacles of 2000, the EAC is the only federal agency tasked with ensuring modern and functional elections in our country. One of the pending EAC nominees, Thomas Hicks, was first nominated to serve in April 2010 – meaning that he is the longest-lasting unconfirmed nominee during the Obama administration.

The Commission has been toothless due to its lack of a quorum caused by Senate Republicans’ strategy of mass-obstruction.  And as the bipartisan election commission chaired by Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg and Democratic lawyer Bob Bauer noted in a report on the state of the American voting experience, “Without a fully functioning EAC to adopt the new standards, many new technologies that might better serve local election administrators are not being brought to the marketplace.” The report explained that this will exacerbate an “impending crisis in voting technology.”

This fall, 35 organizations signed onto a letter to Senate leaders highlighting the importance of a fully-functional EAC.


For more information or to interview leaders from the Fix the Senate Now coalition, contact Michael Earls at media@fixthesenatenow.org

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Don't Reward Obstruction: U.S. Senate Should Do Its Job & Vote on Qualified Nominees Before Leaving

Washington, DC – After last November’s sensible Senate reforms – spurred by Republicans’ mass-blockade of qualified nominees – the Senate GOP has tried to waste the maximum amount of Senate time possible to slow Senate progress. The extent of their commitment to time-wasting is revealed by the fact that nearly three dozen nominations have been subject to cloture votes or reconsidered votes since last November – only to then be unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

Senate Democrats should not reward this persistent obstruction by ending the 113th Congress before its work is done, the Fix the Senate Now coalition said today. This is especially important given the record number of approximately 130 nominees still pending on the Executive Calendar.  Instead, the U.S. Senate should stay in session and vote on as many qualified nominees as possible before heading home for the holidays.

Last week, 33 organizations signed onto a letter from Fix the Senate Now that noted how many nominees “have been waiting months in limbo – some for years – awaiting votes” and that the President would need “to start the process of re-nominating all these individuals again – a waste of time and resources for a new Congress and President” if the Senate does not deliver votes before the end of this 113th Congress.

As Danny Vinik of The New Republic writes today, “Lawmakers will likely object to working through the holidays. If Reid must give them a couple of days off around Christmas and New Year’s, to appease them, he should do so. But it is too important for the functioning of the executive branch and the makeup of the courts to spend the entire time on holiday.”


For more information or to interview leaders from the Fix the Senate Now coalition, contact Michael Earls at media@fixthesenatenow.org

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ICYMI: "U.S. Senate Rules Reform at One Year: A First Step, But a Long Road Ahead"

Washington, DC – Alliance for Justice (AFJ) President Nan Aron and Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen have a new opinion piece published at Huffington Post reflecting on Senate rules reform after one year.

Read “U.S. Senate Rules Reform at One Year: A First Step, But a Long Road Ahead,” which we excerpt below:

“Just over one year ago, the U.S. Senate adopted sensible reforms that helped restore some common sense to the upper chamber. Despite partisan hand-wringing and overheated rhetoric, here's what the changes amounted to: helping ensure that most judicial and executive branch nominees could receive a simple up-or-down vote on their merits. The Senate reforms moved our democracy one step closer to its functional traditions.

Throughout 2014, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his caucus have prioritized moving nominations forward and have successfully filled an array of vacancies. This includes many judicial and executive positions that would have been blocked before last November.

But more work needs to be done. Nearly 150 nominees are pending on the executive calendar. Still languishing on the floor are more than a dozen qualified judicial nominees and candidates to fill dozens more executive branch vacancies essential to the protection of health, safety, workers, the environment and democracy itself. That's why the Senate should prioritize moving nominees forward during its remaining weeks in session, while the chamber continues to pursue additional sensible reforms.”

…We also hope the Senate will continue to pursue reforms that bolster accountability and transparency, while cutting down on obstruction and time-wasting. This means continuing to allow up-or-down votes for most presidential nominees and supporting such reforms as "use it or lose it."

Those dedicated to Senate gridlock and time-wasting should have to either use the post-cloture time allotted to discuss relevant matters or else lose the allotted time. Such a reform would help shift the burden of obstruction on those looking to block or slow the Senate's progress.

The Senate reforms enacted a year ago were a first step in the right direction. But there's a long road ahead to continue to improve the functioning of the Senate and, with it, the health of our democracy.”


For more information or to interview leaders from the Fix the Senate Now coalition, contact Michael Earls at media@fixthesenatenow.org

 

FTSN Urges Senate Leadership to Confirm Outstanding Nominees

In a strongly worded letter to Senate leadership, 33 organizations urged the Senate to move forward more than 150 nominees to judgeships, ambassadorships, and important executive offices charged with protecting our health, safety, workers, and the environment.

Click here to read the full letter.

Republican Claims About Judicial Nominations Combine Gross Inaccuracies With Banal Observations

Republicans regain control of the Senate and already the self-serving, revisionist history has begun. In a joint op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, GOP Senator Orrin Hatch and former White House counsel under President George H. W. Bush, C. Boyden Gray, call on Republicans to "not repeat the Democratic majority's excesses," and to instead "begin the hard work of repairing much institutional damage" supposedly wrought by Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Except, of course, when the so-called "excess" and "damage" might benefit a Republican majority.

Hatch and Gray argue that, whatever other changes may be required, Republicans should not restore the 60-vote threshold to confirm judicial nominees. Senate Democrats changed that rule a year ago after Republicans, in an effort to undermine the president's policies, abused the filibuster and blocked three consecutive nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Now only a simple majority is required to end debate on most executive and judicial nominations. Hatch and Gray say this rule change has given President Obama an unfair advantage on judicial confirmations, and to deprive a future Republican president of that same advantage "would only invite further damage to the institution."

Click here to read the entire article.