Fix the Senate Now

ICYMI: Top Energy & Environmental Nominees ?Languish in Confirmation Limbo? Due to Senate Gridlock

Washington, DC – An important new read in the energy and environmental publication Greenwire, titled “Top jobs vacant as nominees languish in confirmation limbo,” highlights how Senate Republicans’ obstruction has blocked a series of key energy and environmental nominees from receiving a vote in the Senate, causing these important executive branch jobs to remain unfilled. 

The piece (behind a paywall), reads in part:

“Richard Engler has been in nomination purgatory for a long time.

Since late 2012, he's been President Obama's nominee for a chemical safety watchdog panel. He's had his finances and personal life scrutinized and been grilled by the White House, the FBI and Senate Republicans. He's got a transition plan ready in case he gets uprooted from his job in New Jersey and he's prepared to move to Washington, D.C., without much notice at any time, should he finally win Senate confirmation.

‘The uncertainty has almost become part of daily life,’ Engler said.

He's not alone. Engler is one of a spate of Obama nominees living in limbo. Across the government, there are more than 200 posts awaiting Senate confirmation -- including some like Engler who have been waiting for years, according to White House data. That includes more than two dozen key nominees for high-ranking energy and environmental gigs…

…As government agencies await new leaders, the widespread vacancies can create uncertainty about agency management and the future of key policies as the clock ticks down on Obama's second term. For now, that means there are no Senate-confirmed bosses to oversee EPA's air program, the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service, or the Energy Department's Office of Science…

…Ken Kopocis, the administration's pick to be U.S. EPA's next water chief, was nominated more than three years ago in June 2011. The former Capitol Hill staffer is liked on both sides of the aisle, but he's become a lightning rod for attacks on the Obama administration's water policies, and it's unclear whether he'll ever win the Senate's blessing (Greenwire, May 9).

He's one of six EPA nominees awaiting Senate confirmation. Nine other nominees are awaiting confirmation for top Energy Department posts, and the White House is on the hunt for a new deputy secretary after Daniel Poneman recently announced he'll be stepping down. Three top Interior picks are awaiting Senate confirmation…

…Theoretically, that [November’s Senate rules change] paved the way for the administration to plow ahead with nomination votes despite Republican opposition. But some confirmations have still been sluggish as the administration has focused on moving judicial nominees, and Senate rules still require a significant chunk of time to consider each nominee. That could be overcome with GOP cooperation, but Republicans were incensed by the rules change and are often taking advantage of the remaining procedural hurdles.”

In light of Republicans’ continued time wasting – as evidenced by blocking votes on 22 nominations that they later voted unanimously to confirm the Fix the Senate Now coalition strongly supports potential “use it or lose it” reform in the Senate.

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


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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New Reminders Why Senate Rules Reform Remains Essential

And Why Mitch McConnell’s Complaints about Senate Gridlock Are like Luis Suarez Complaining about Biting in Soccer

Washington, DC – U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared this week that “the Senate has reached a new level of dysfunction.” As Steve Benen of MSNBC noted in response, “hearing Mitch McConnell complain about Capitol Hill dysfunction is a bit like hearing Uruguay’s Luis Suarez complaining about biting in soccer. It requires a failure of self-awareness that’s almost too staggering to contemplate.”

McConnell’s comments are just the latest example of Senate Republicans’ hypocrisy, excuses, and selective memory regarding Senate gridlock. Several new developments and assessments offer a reminder why Senate reform last November was so important – and why continued work to reform the Senate must remain a priority:

  • SCOTUS Noel Canning Ruling: A Reminder of the Importance of Senate Rules Reform: The Supreme Court’s ruling in the National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning case today reminds us why Senate reform is critical. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assessed today in a statement, “The National Labor Relations Board had ceased to function due to Senate Republican obstruction of these three qualified nominees, threatening the livelihood and safety of working men and women throughout the country. More than anything, today’s Supreme Court ruling underscores the importance of the rules reform Senate Democrats enacted last November. Without that reform and with today’s ruling, a small but vocal minority would have more power than ever to block qualified nominees from getting a simple up-or-down vote on the floor.” The Communications Workers of America (CWA) noted that the “decision is a sharp reminder that the U.S. Senate functions under archaic procedures that must change...[t]he Senate’s constitutional duty is to review the president’s nominees through ‘advice and consent’ – not use parliamentary tricks to impede his policy agenda.” And Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center for Justice said, “After today’s decision, the burden falls squarely on the U.S. Senate to fix its broken confirmation process and make government work again for the American people.”
  • Unpacking Republicans’ Excuses for Gridlock: Senate Republicans justify their current strategy of Senate time-wasting by saying it’s a direct reaction to last November’s Senate reforms – but they refuse to acknowledge their role in triggering said Senate reforms in the first place by engaging in a mass-blockade of qualified nominees and trying to shut down such agencies as the NLRB and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Now, GOP Senators are wasting Senate time solely for obstruction’s sake. As a memo from the Democratic Policy and Communications Center (DPCC) notes, “Not content with only blocking bills and nominations they actually oppose, Republicans are even filibustering nominations with UNANIMOUS SUPPORT. This year alone, Senate Republicans have already blocked confirmation votes on 22 nominations that they later voted unanimously to confirm, wasting literally days of post-cloture time in the process.”  

Another popular Republican justification for their obstruction is the claim that they lack input into the amendment process. Yet as Politico notes, “Republicans themselves have blocked at least 73 amendments from receiving votes in the Senate, 36 of which are Republican amendments. McConnell (R-Ky.) has blocked 20 such amendments, while Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has rejected 37 this Congress.” As a memo from Senate Majority Leader Reid’s office describes, “In the past, the minority worked with the majority to come to agreements on a reasonable number of amendments in the course of debating and eventually voting on legislation. Unfortunately, today’s Senate Republicans would rather constantly pick fights and manufacture crises…using the cloture process, it would take Senator Reid approximately a year and a half of consecutive work days to produce final passage votes on the 73 votes blocked by Republicans.”

  • What to Do About It? Additional Senate Reform Ideas: Former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Trent Lott (R-MS) published a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week in conjunction with the release of a Bipartisan Policy Center report on political reform. Their relevant recommendations for improving the Senate include: “we believe that the world’s greatest deliberative body should be able to deliberate, recognizing that procedural delaying tactics have been overused. Senators of both parties have prevented legislation from even being brought to the floor by filibustering the ‘motion to proceed.’ We recommend eliminating filibusters on motions to proceed while limiting debate to two hours and then allowing for a simple majority vote to proceed to the bill. This change does not alter the opportunity that exists under current rules for unlimited debate on other aspects of the legislation, but it would allow the Senate to get to the meat of an issue instead of debating whether to debate.” The elimination of the filibuster on the motion to proceed, as well as the emphasis on facilitating actual transparent debate, are proposals the Fix the Senate Now coalition has long supported. 

Additionally, in light of Republicans’ continued time wasting – as evidenced by blocking votes on 22 nominations that they later voted unanimously to confirmthe Fix the Senate Now coalition strongly supports potential “use it or lose it” reform in the Senate. Those dedicated to Senate gridlock and time wasting should have to either use the post-cloture time allotted to debate or discuss relevant matters or else lose the allotted maximum time.  Such a reform would cut down on time wasting, prioritize debate and accountability, and help shift the burden of obstruction on those looking to block or slow the Senate’s progress.


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

Use it or Lose It: A Sensible Change for the U.S. Senate to Reduce Time Wasting on Nominees

Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate has made significant advances in recent weeks toward reducing the judicial backlog and confirming judges to fill key vacancies. Building on the success of last November’s Senate rules changes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Democrats have met Republican obstruction head-on, made nominations a priority, and filled an array of vacancies – including 22 judicial nominees confirmed during just the most recent Senate work period alone.

Despite this progress on judicial nominees, the Senate still faces a major nominee backlog – especially in the executive branch. The biggest obstacle to reducing this backlog is the dedicated strategy of time-wasting that the Republican minority has employed in recent months. For example, a report released earlier this month by Common Cause, “The ‘New Nullification’ At Work,” found nineteen instances since November in which senators have had to waste floor time on cloture votes to end filibusters on judicial nominees…who were then confirmed unanimously by the Senate. 

Resultantly, Senator Reid is raising the possibility of additional Senate rules reform, recently noting, “I’m not interested in changing the rules now. But now is a relative term.” In particular, Senator Reid is highlighting post-cloture time wasting as an area in particular need of reform. In April, Senator Reid lamented how Senate Republicans “waste 30 hours doing nothing” (referring to the maximum 30 hours allotted for post-cloture consideration). And as a Senate aide recently explained to Roll Call, “It’s called debate time for a reason…It’s supposed to be used for debate, not to run out the time arbitrarily. Republicans are making a good case for use it or lose it.” 

The Fix the Senate Now coalition strongly supports this potential “use it or lose it” reform in the Senate. Those dedicated to Senate gridlock and time wasting should have to either use the post-cloture time allotted to debate or discuss relevant matters or else lose the allotted maximum time.  Such a reform would cut down on time wasting, prioritize debate and accountability, and help shift the burden of obstruction on those looking to block or slow the Senate’s progress.

The Common Cause report offers a reminder of the consequences of the current gridlock and why cutting down on time wasting for non-controversial nominees is essential. As of earlier in May, over 110 nominees for executive branch agencies and offices were pending on the Senate floor, compared to just 32 pending executive branch nominations on the floor at the same point in the George W. Bush presidency and 18 at this point in the Bill Clinton presidency. 


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 President Obama Just Called for Additional Filibuster Reform

Washington, DC – Senate filibuster abuse is back in the news this week, spurred by new comments from President Obama and several documentations of the record Senate gridlock he has faced during his administration.

  • President Obama Calls for Filibuster Reform: As Steven Dennis of Roll Call reports, “President Barack Obama endorsed more changes to the filibuster rules in the Senate in a speech Wednesday, remarks that will encourage senators who want to deploy the ‘nuclear option’ again. At a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in New York, Obama specifically said Democrats need to change ‘how a filibuster works,’ without going into specifics on what, exactly, he has in mind.  Some Democrats want to force talking filibusters, requiring senators to be on the floor around the clock if cloture is not invoked. Others want to reduce or eliminate the 60-vote threshold for overcoming a filibuster on legislation, as the Democrats did last year for nominations other than Supreme Court picks. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has recently been considering if he went far enough in changing the rules given the GOP’s procedural retaliation, which has chewed up weeks of floor time.”

The President’s comments reveal an understandable frustration with the dedicated gridlock and obstructionism he has faced throughout his administration. Underscoring the President’s sentiment are the numbers and findings outlined in a report released last week by Common Cause, “The ‘New Nullification’ At Work.” Additionally, two of the leading scholarly observers of the Senate provide new reminders and context for the President’s comments:

  • Common Cause Report – Key Takeaways: The Common Cause study showed that despite important Senate reforms adopted last November and progress reducing the judicial backlog in recent weeks, the U.S. Senate remains mired in gridlock and faces a severe backlog of nominees. The report noted that this Senate has broken the record for cloture votes taken – an imprecise but telling reflection of the default obstruction faced by the Senate majority. The cloture vote total includes nineteen instances since November in which senators have had to waste floor time on cloture votes to end filibusters on judicial nominees who were then confirmed unanimously by the Senate. 

The report also provided a detailed breakdown of each nominee currently awaiting Senate action, finding a massive nominee backlog compared to predecessor presidencies. As of May 5th, 139 Obama nominees were pending on the Senate floor, including over 110 for executive branch agencies and offices. That compares to just 32 pending executive branch nominations on the floor at the same point in the George W. Bush presidency and 18 at this point in the Bill Clinton presidency.  Overall, the report found that 258 nominees were awaiting Senate confirmation. The report also found that executive branch and independent agency nominees now pending on the floor have been waiting an average of over 9 months since their nominations.

  • Senate Experts Weigh In, Document Unprecedented Rise of Filibuster During Obama Administration: The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler recently criticized President Obama for exaggerating the number of filibusters he has faced.  Yet two of the leading scholars of the U.S. Senate, Norm Ornstein and Sarah Binder, today criticize Kessler’s assessment and describe the unprecedented nature of Senate obstruction actually faced by President Obama.  Ornstein writes, “In the contemporary world, a filibuster is simply any effort to use Senate rules to raise the bar on a bill or nomination from the standard of majority to the supermajority, in this case 60 votes in the 100-member Senate. By Kessler's standard, there were 50 filibusters, not 500. In the real world, that standard is ridiculous.” And Binder notes, “If we follow Kessler’s rule and count multiple efforts to invoke cloture across the lifespan of a measure as a single filibuster, then we miss much of the parliamentary arms race under way in the Senate.”

The scholars go on to describe what has really transpired in recent years in the Senate.  Ornstein explains, “with Barack Obama's presidency, Republican filibusters or threats of filibuster escalated in ways the Senate had never seen before. The rule had not changed, but the norms were blown up. Filibusters were used not simply to block legislation or occasional nominations, but routinely, even on matters and nominations that were entirely uncontroversial and ultimately passed unanimously or near-unanimously. The idea of a filibuster as the expression of a minority that felt so intensely that it would pull out all the stops to try to block something pushed by the majority went by the boards. This was a pure tactic of obstruction, trying to use up as much of the Senate's most precious commodity—time—as possible to screw up the majority's agenda.”

And Binder notes, the dramatic “rise in the sixty vote Senate” in recent years and concludes that the Senate is “increasingly bound up in parliamentary knots. Republicans pursue all avenues for slowing down the majority. Democrats counter by exploiting whatever limited means Senate rules afford them.  Not surprisingly, we are left with a Senate unable to deliberate over the big issues of the day, let alone the small ones.”


 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: New Common Cause Report Documents Nominee Backlog in U.S. Senate

Despite Last November’s Reforms & Recent Progress on Judicial Backlog, New Study Shows Nominees Remain Caught Up in Senate Gridlock


Washington, DC – A major new report released today by Common Cause, “The ‘New Nullification’ At Work,” shows that despite important Senate reforms adopted last November and progress reducing the judicial backlog in recent weeks, the U.S. Senate remains mired in gridlock and faces a severe backlog of nominees.

As author Stephen Spaulding notes, “While a simple majority can now end filibusters to most nominees, the current minority is exploiting other Senate rules and customs to gum up the works and waste time that ought to be spent on important issues.”

The report notes that thirteen times since November, senators have had to waste precious floor time on cloture votes to end filibusters on judicial nominees who were then confirmed unanimously by the Senate.  The report also provides a detailed breakdown of each nominee currently awaiting Senate action, including related information such as the amount of time each nominee has been waiting.  Among the key findings in the report:

  • Record-High Number of Cloture Votes During this Senate: Common Cause notes, “The Senate passed an unfortunate milestone last week with its 115th cloture vote, breaking the six-year-old record of 112 cloture votes in a single Congress. Cloture is the Senate’s term for a vote to end debate and bring a bill or nomination to a final vote. Many of the new cloture votes are to break filibusters of nominations.” 
  • Massive Nominee Backlog Compared to Predecessor Presidencies: The report finds that 139 Obama nominees were pending on the Senate floor, including over 110 for executive branch agencies and offices. That compares to just 32 pending executive branch nominations on the floor at the same point in the George W. Bush presidency and 18 at this point in the Bill Clinton presidency.  Overall, the report finds that 258 nominees are awaiting Senate confirmation.
  • Average Executive Branch Nominee Wait Time Exceeds Nine Months: The report also finds that executive branch and independent agency nominees now pending on the floor have been waiting an average of over 9 months since their nominations. Three executive branch and independent agency nominees have been waiting more than three years for a confirmation vote since their nominations.

Read the new Common Cause report: “The ‘New Nullification’ At Work” 


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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Two Reminders of Why U.S. Senate Obstruction Remains a Concern

This Week Delivers Record-Breaking Cloture Vote for a Single Senate and Reminder that Filibusters Continue to Block Popular Issues Such As Minimum Wage Hike   

Washington, DC – Last week has delivered two reminders of why obstruction in the U.S. Senate remains a pressing concern:

  • Senate Breaks Record for Number of Cloture Votes Ever Taken in Single Congress: Judged by cloture votes taken, this 113th Senate has now taken more votes to try and break filibusters than any previous Senate in American history. Yesterday, the Senate took three cloture votes, bringing the total number of cloture votes to 115 for this Congress – the highest number ever recorded in a single Congress.
  • Filibuster Blocks Minimum Wage Increase – Against the Wishes of the Majority of Public and Majority of Senate. Increasing the federal minimum wage is supported by a majority of the American public and by a majority of the U.S. Senate.  Despite these facts, this week saw legislation to raise the minimum wage hike fail due to a Republican filibuster. On Wednesday, support from 54 senators for advancing the legislative process forward was not enough to overcome a Republican filibuster and its 60 vote requirement. As Common Cause President Miles Rapoport said in a statement: “Fifty-four senators, a clear majority, voted today to consider this important proposal. But in today’s Senate, the fundamental principle of majority rule is honored in the breach; thanks to the filibuster rule, it takes a supermajority of 60 just to start a debate and another supermajority to actually take action.”

Despite the dedicated obstruction of the Senate Republican minority, the Democratic majority has been building off the success of last November’s Senate reforms and has recently prioritized reducing the backlog of nominees awaiting confirmation. Just this week, the Senate confirmed nine judges, which as Legal Times noted, is “the highest one-week total for confirmations during the session of Congress that started in January 2013.”


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: The Senate GOP?s Selective Memory on Senate Gridlock

Washington, DC – Senate Republicans continue to show notable hypocrisy and selective memory regarding the Senate’s recent policies and procedures, as well as their own efforts to foster gridlock in the chamber.  

  • Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has offered a particularly egregious example of this behavior in a discussion of potential changes to “blue slips” – the custom which provides home-state senators with veto power over judicial nominees from their states.  In an op-ed in The Hill, Sen. Hatch warns against “Weakening or eliminating the blue slip process,” and asserts that reform to the blue slip custom would “sacrifice the good of the Senate and the good of the country simply to serve short-term political interests.”

However, as the Congressional Research Service stated in 2003, Sen. Hatch’s own blue slip policy while he was Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee was that “A return of a negative blue slip by one or both home-state Senators does not prevent the committee from moving forward with the nomination – provided that the Administration has engaged in pre-nomination consultation with both of the home-state Senators.”  If senators had a consultation role, but not veto power, over home-state nominees under Sen. Hatch, why would such an arrangement now “sacrifice the good of the Senate and the good of the country”?

Sen. Hatch’s selective memory regarding blue slips echoes his Republican colleagues’ faulty memories regarding the root causes of Senate gridlock and Senate Republicans’ role in catalyzing last November’s Senate reforms.

    • Senate Republicans admit that the current gridlock is because of November’s Senate reforms, while ignoring their role in forcing November’s reforms: In recent months, Senate Republicans have recalibrated their obstruction by refusing to abide by formerly routine Senate practices, such as the granting of unanimous consent for even the least controversial of nominees.  Republicans openly admit that their current time-wasting and obstructionism is a direct reaction to last November’s sensible and modest Senate reforms

      For example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently defended Senate Republicans’ blockade of nominees as follows: “I might say many of these nominees would have been confirmed last December had we not experienced this event perpetrated by the majority in a heavy-handed attempt to alter the balance, to change the nature of the Senate with a simple majority.  It was an unfortunate decision, but those kinds of decisions have consequences.”  Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) made a similar defense last week: “I think there'd be a lot more bipartisan cooperation so everybody could be accommodated, but for the extreme position taken on the nuclear option."

      These comments refuse to acknowledge Republicans’ role in triggering said Senate reforms in the first place.  What “bipartisan cooperation” is Sen. Cornyn referring to, given that Senate Republicans’ mass blockade of qualified executive and judicial nominees forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and his caucus to embark on November’s reforms?

      As Jonathan Bernstein noted in the Washington Post before November’s reforms: “There’s really no choice here.  Republicans are demanding something entirely unprecedented and unjustified: that Democrats, despite winning the White House and a comfortable majority in the Senate, cannot fill three seats on this crucial federal bench [the D.C. Circuit]… All of which means that sooner or later, Democrats will have to draw a line.”

      Despite their intentionally faulty memories, Senate Republicans’ assault on the basic functionality and traditional norms of the U.S. Senate should not subject to revisionist history.


      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: Common Cause Highlights ?Two Shameful Milestones? in U.S. Senate

      Washington, DC – New analysis from Common Cause highlights two recent “shameful milestones” that the current U.S. Senate should not be celebrating.  Stephen Spaulding of Common Cause writes:

      “When the Senate returns today, it should not celebrate two milestones that it surpassed last week.

      First, Majority Leader Harry Reid filed his 116th cloture petition – topping the total number of cloture petitions filed in the previous Congress and signaling the Senate’s continuing dysfunction. To put this in perspective, it is already double the total number of cloture petitions filed in the entire five decade period between 1917-1968, when southern senators famously used the filibuster to thwart civil rights legislation, anti-lynching measures and voting rights bills.

      Second, the Senate held its 100th cloture vote last week. The only other time the Senate voted 100 or more times on cloture was in the 110th Congress (2007-2008).

      “The Senate is on pace to shatter all previous filibuster records. And we still have nine more months to go before this Congress expires.”

      Spaulding then highlights why these numbers matter, noting that since last November’s sensible Senate reforms, “some senators griped that they would do everything in their power to continue to slow-walk nominees, even if they lacked the votes to block a confirmation vote but otherwise support a nominee on his or her merits.”  Writes Spaulding:

      “This obstructionist strategy is one reason the Senate hit the new cloture record last week. In an effort to stall and run out the clock, a minority of senators are forcing cloture votes on noncontroversial nominees even when those same senators unanimously vote ‘yea’ on final confirmation.

      “In the first three months of 2014, the Senate confirmed eight nominees without a single senator voting “nay” – yet still had to spend precious floor time to satisfy a minority of senators who withheld unanimous consent, thereby forcing cloture votes…

      “…The only plausible explanation is that a minority was determined to obstruct the Senate’s proceedings and burn valuable time that could otherwise be spent legislating and solving problems.

      “At the moment, Republicans are causing all of this wasted time and resources. They ought to consult some of their floor speeches deriding government efficiency.

      “The vote lowering the cloture threshold for nominees was never going to be a panacea for the Senate’s dysfunction. Senators who prefer stalemate are still using every available tool to block the Senate from doing its job – boycotting hearings and withholding blue slips in the Senate Judiciary Committee, for example.

      “But one tactic is passing below the radar, even though it’s relatively transparent. It’s time to shine a spotlight and hold senators accountable for wasting floor time on pointless cloture votes for noncontroversial matters that do nothing but advance their policy of gridlock.”


      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 Consequences of Senate Republicans? ?Obstruct ?Em All? Approach to Nominations

      Washington, DC – Last November’s modest reforms in the U.S. Senate helped to nudge the upper chamber back toward its traditional norm of providing an up-or-down vote for every qualified nominee.  Yet after an initial spate of confirmations, Senate Republicans have simply recalibrated their obstruction, and are now intent on stalling and delaying votes by refusing to abide by formerly routine practices, such as the granting of unanimous consent.  Even non-controversial nominees have been caught up in gridlock – including many for foreign policy posts that have traditionally been off-limits to partisan obstruction.

      The Washington Post highlights that Obama Administration nominees are facing “longer wait times” than other recent administrations, citing that “114 executive-branch nominees have been waiting an average of 210 days.”  Despite the claims of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who recently insisted that the Senate is confirming nominees at a normal rate, a glance at publicly available data shows that hundreds of executive and judicial nominations are bogged down in Senate committees and bottled up on the Senate floor.

      Here are some particularly egregious examples of these stalled nominations:

      • Election Assistance Commission Nominees Have Been Waiting for Several Years: Thomas Hicks and Myrna Perez were nominated to serve on the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in April 2010 and March 2011, respectively.  They are still waiting to be confirmed.  In fact, their nominations haven’t even cleared the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.  With voting rights under attack in many parts of the country, EAC Commissioners have an essential role to play in the health of our democracy.  In fact, a bipartisan election commission chaired by Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg and Democratic lawyer Bob Bauer touted the importance of the EAC in its recent report on the American voting experience.
      • Thirty-Six Ambassadors Are Awaiting Senate Action: Three dozen ambassador-rank nominees are waiting for Senate confirmation.  Brian Nichols, our nominee for Ambassador to Peru, was first nominated last June. Our ambassadorial nominees to countries such as Colombia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand, Iceland, Tanzania, Angola, Cameroon, Niger, Zambia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kuwait, Jamaica, and Albania are all waiting as well.  Qualified representatives dedicated to preserving America’s standing in the world should not be subject to partisan obstruction for obstruction’s sake.  As Secretary of State John Kerry recently noted, “It’s unacceptable that so many of our nominees — countless numbers of ambassadors to very important countries — are awaiting confirmation…national security is not served by keeping many professionals, people who have waited patiently, in a perpetual limbo.” 
      • Forty-Nine Federal Judicial Nominees in Senate Backlog: While the Senate has made some headway in reducing its historic backlog of judicial nominations, the problem is still very real and very large.  Forty-nine nominees to circuit and district courts are still waiting for an up-or-down vote in the Senate, and Senate Republicans have demonstrated that they are intent on consuming hours and hours of valuable floor time to slow-walk these frequently uncontroversial nominations.  The obstructed nominees include Jill Pryor, a nominee to the Eleventh Circuit, who was first nominated in February 2012; Rosemary Marquez, a nominee to Arizona’s District Court, who was first nominated in June 2011; and North Carolina’s Jennifer May-Parker and South Carolina’s Bruce Hendricks, who have both been waiting more than nine months to fill vacancies on district courts.  At a time when so many of our federal courts are badly understaffed (as highlighted in a recent Brennan Center for Justice report), it is a miscarriage of justice to delay votes on qualified judicial nominees.
      • Republicans Are Delaying Confirmations for Eight Chief Financial Officers: There are eight executive agencies waiting for confirmations of Chief Financial Officers or their equivalent – the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and Air Force, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and NASA.  By depriving these agencies of qualified individuals tasked with monitoring the agencies’ financial health, Republicans are showing that their supposed belief in fiscally responsible government pales next to their obsession with furthering Senate gridlock.
      • Despite Numerous Worldwide Human Rights Crises, State Department Human Rights Officials Stuck Waiting for the Senate: As the Daily Beast wrote this week, the State Department’s top human rights official, “Tom Malinowski, the nominee to become Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, has lingered in limbo after being nominated over 250 days ago.  Having quit his job as the Washington Director of Human Rights Watch, Malinowski now waits for the glacial pace of the new Senate confirmation process to put him back on the payroll. Meanwhile, the most senior position in the Obama administration for human rights remains vacant, while crises from Syria to Ukraine make the need for American advocacy on human rights more crucial than ever.”  Malinowski’s stalled nomination was the subject of a new letter issued this week from leading human rights organizations, who urged the Senate to act on his nomination. In addition to the obstruction against Malinowski, Senate gridlock is also blocking a vote for Keith Harper’s nomination to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

       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 Coalition Outlines Reforms to Add Accountability & Transparency

      Washington, DC – A new story today in Politico highlights growing support for reforming senators’ “blue slip” veto power over judicial nominees:

      “Republican senators, White House aides argue, have developed what amounts to a silent filibuster, using the ‘blue slip’ tradition that gives home state senators signoff power for in-state nominees. Given the number and length of delays, they say trying to collaborate on nominations has become an unbearable burden, the blue slip an outdated courtesy — there are 53 pending judicial nominees, and only six of the 37 vacancies without a pending nominee are in states with two Democratic senators.”

      The Fix the Senate Now coalition recently highlighted the blue slip courtesy as an area for further Senate reforms, writing:

      “[T]he blue slip prerogative needlessly encourages obstruction – and is particularly anachronistic after last November’s Senate reforms. After eliminating the filibuster’s minority veto last November for most nominees, it no longer makes sense to provide home-state senators with blue slip power – a single-member veto that can be levied without any public justification.”

      The Fix the Senate Now coalition called for reforms to “add greater accountability and transparency to the blue slip process,” noting that at a minimum, the Senate should explore the following reforms:

       “In particular, if a home-state senator has a problem with a nominee, they should have to air their objections in public at a hearing – not in secret in a backroom. This would encourage greater accountability and transparency, and would raise the costs of potential obstruction.  These same principles are at the heart of the “talking filibuster” provision backed by the Fix the Senate Now coalition.  To further accountability, the Senate should also return to the practice of posting the status of blue slips for each judge nominated on a transparent, easily accessible website, as was the case in the recent past.”

      The coalition also highlighted recent precedent to support blue slip reform:

      [A]s the Congressional Research Service stated in 2003, the blue slip policy of then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was that, “A return of a negative blue slip by one or both home-state Senators does not prevent the committee from moving forward with the nomination – provided that the Administration has engaged in pre-nomination consultation with both of the home-state Senators.”  In other words, senators had a consultation role, but not veto power, over home-state nominees.  A similar arrangement would be a step forward for this Senate as well.”


      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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