Fix the Senate Now

Senate Rules Reform ? Common-Sense & Common in Practice

To:      Interested Parties
From:  Fix the Senate Now
Date:  
November 21, 2013
Re:     
Senate Rules Reform – Common-Sense & Common in Practice 

Overview

Those who want the U.S. Senate to operate according to its best norms and historical traditions should fully support Senate Majority Leader Reid’s (D-NV) sensible step forward today to cut down on unprecedented gridlock. It is the Republicans’ recent strategy of filibustering and preventing up or down votes on qualified nominees en masse and without respect to their merits that already represents a radical departure from Senate history.

As Senate Majority Leader Reid said on the Senate floor today, “Can anyone say the Senate is working now? I don’t think so.”

Ensuring that qualified nominees receive an up-or-down vote on their merits will help restore the chamber to its functional traditions and should be commended.

Senate Reform: Both Common-Sense and Common in the Senate

The U.S. Senate has changed its practices by a simple-majority vote 18 different times since 1977 – including past efforts led by Senate institutional stalwarts like former Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) (see this recap for dates and descriptions of the 18 previous occasions).

Additionally, the Republican Policy Committee (RPC) issued a stellar overview of Senate reforms by simple majority in 2005 (preserved online here). Or see here for an overview of past years that the Senate reformed the chamber’s procedures regarding the filibuster and cloture rules. Further, the filibuster itself is an historical accident, as this overview from Common Cause describes.

Republicans’ Unprecedented Obstruction – a Break from Senate History

In recent weeks, Senate Republicans have blocked three successive nominees to the influential D.C. Circuit Court, Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins. The Republicans’ rationale behind their recent obstruction has had nothing to do with the merits of the judicial or executive branch nominees they have been blocking. This is a radical departure from the Senate’s traditional advice-and-consent role and from past Senate battles over the merits of specific nominees.

Each of the three nominees to the D.C. Circuit are exceedingly well-qualified. See this backgrounder for more. As a result Republican Senators have been making ridiculous claims to underscore their obstruction – such, as claims that filling existing judicial vacancies on the DC Circuit represents “court packing” (As conservative columnist Byron York tweeted last spring, "It doesn't strike me as 'packing' to nominate candidates for available seats.") The truth is that Republicans are intent to try and deny President Obama his constitutional authority to fill vacancies.  People for the American Way points out, “While President Obama has had just one nominee confirmed to the court, President George W. Bush had four confirmed, George H.W. Bush had three and Ronald Reagan had eight. In fact, 15 of the last 19 judges confirmed to the court were nominated by Republican presidents.” 

Compared to past Democratic-led battles to block selected judicial nominees, there is a critical difference.  As Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice said, “We’re operating in a whole different world now. The filibuster was used only a handful of times by Democrats to register opposition to judicial nominees on merit. Now, judicial nominees are being filibustered for an entirely different reason, and that is solely for the purpose of obstruction, regardless of who the nominee is.”

Failed Past Attempts to Reform Runaway Obstruction

Senator Reid and the Senate Democratic caucus have tried – time and time again – to work out bipartisan agreements to ensure that nominees received up-or-down votes. Compromise handshake agreements in January 2011 and January 2013 failed to address runaway Republican obstructionism. In fact, by many measures, the abuse was worse than ever.

And despite initial promise that this summer’s agreement over executive branch nominees would be a permanent breakthrough, the filibusters over the past few weeks has left Senator Reid and the Democratic caucus with no other alternative.  Qualified nominees deserve an up-or-down vote

Hand-wringing over the Future

Some observers are claiming that today’s step forward in the Senate will destroy the promise of bipartisanship, lead to Republicans shutting down the Senate in response, or sow the seeds for a future Republican Senate majority to remove the filibuster all together. 

However, what Senate – and what Republican Party – have these observers been watching in recent years?  Republicans already have shut down the Senate and already have proved their willingness to change the Senate rules if they are in the majority, as they did in 2005.

Takeaway

 Today, we moved closer to a functional Senate that, once again, will ensure that qualified nominees can receive an up-or-down vote. This is a step forward that will move the Senate back toward its traditions and constitutional 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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Fix the Senate Now: U.S. Senate Moves toward Functional Democracy

“Ensuring that Qualified Nominees Can Be Judged on Merits & Receive an Up-or-Down Vote Should Not Be a Contentious Notion”

 

Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate moved forward toward functional democracy by reforming Senate rules governing nominations.

The following is a statement from Fix the Senate Now:

“Those who want the U.S. Senate to live up to its traditions as a deliberative body where qualified nominees can receive up-or-down votes should applaud today’s news and thank Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Senate Democratic caucus.

“In recent years, the U.S. Senate has been a broken and dysfunctional institution unable to work for the American people due to the runaway obstruction. Today’s reforms are a step toward breaking through that unprecedented gridlock and moving the chamber back toward the constitutional framers’ vision.

This promising step forward is in line with the numerous other instances that the Senate has reformed its filibuster and cloture rules. Additionally, just since 1977, there are 18 different instances that the Senate changed its practices by a simple majority vote (see this 2005 Republican Policy Committee (RPC) in-depth overview of Senate reforms by simple majority, available here).

“Today’s developments will benefit the American people and the basic functionality of our democracy. The Senate should now proceed to provide a yes-or-no vote to all pending nominees. Ensuring that qualified nominees can be judged on their merits and can receive an up-or-down vote should not be a contentious notion.” 


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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26 Organizations Join Fix the Senate Now Letter to Capitol Hill Calling for Senate Reform

Washington, DC – With Senate rules reform moving back to center stage in Washington, the Fix the Senate Now coalition is today sending a letter to Capitol Hill to speak out that the Senate gridlock is unacceptable. Thus far, as part of our coalition’s increased efforts to explain the urgent need and broad support for Senate reform, 26 organizations have signed onto the letter (signing organizations listed below).

Addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the letter includes the following key excerpts:

“Due to your strong leadership, the Senate finally confirmed a large number of obstructed nominees prior to the August recess, as well as some additional nominees this fall.  The Fix the Senate Now Coalition was grateful for your commitment to those nominations, and your efforts to reform the Senate rules to ensure that each received a yes-or-no vote.  However, we are disappointed that an obstructionist Senate minority has resumed its abuse of Senate rules in an attempt to thwart the confirmations of four exceptionally-qualified nominees...

"...Unfortunately, these filibusters are not isolated incidents, but rather are emblematic of how rampant, ideology-based obstructionism is the new norm in the U.S. Senate.  We urge you to meet this ongoing and unprecedented obstruction with another push for rules reform, sending a clear and timely message that an extreme minority cannot impose a slow-motion government shutdown by standing in the way of critical federal appointments...

"...In the face of such blatantly partisan obstruction, we urge you to once again move forward with plans to reform the rules governing the U.S. Senate should these nominations fail to receive a timely confirmation vote. Without rules reform, these and other critically important executive branch and judicial nominees may never get a vote on the Senate floor."

"Our country cannot afford any more political obstruction. It is time to abolish the filibuster on nominations, allowing qualified nominees to receive yes-or-no confirmation votes on the Senate floor."

26 ORGANIZATIONS SIGNED ONTO FIX THE SENATE NOW LETTER (thus far)

Action for the Common Good

AFL-CIO

Alliance for a Just Society

Alliance for Justice

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – CREW

Common Cause

Communications Workers of America

Daily Kos

Demos

Fair Share

Feminist Majority

International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)

Jobs With Justice

Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment

National Council of Women's Organizations

National Education Association

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund

National People's Action

Service Employees International Union

Sierra Club

The Shalom Center

United Food and Commercial Workers

USAction

Woman's National Democratic Club


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: Fix the Senate Steps Up Push for Reform ? Seeking to Restore Senate Norms & Traditions

Washington, DC – In the aftermath of the latest Senate Republican filibuster of a highly-qualified nominee Monday, President Obama summed-up what’s at stake: “This obstruction is completely unprecedented … When it comes to judicial nominations, I am fulfilling my constitutional responsibility, but Congress is not. Instead, Senate Republicans are standing in the way of a fully functioning judiciary that serves the American people."

As the Fix the Senate Now coalition has pointed out before,  those intent on preserving the norms and traditions of the U.S. Senate should fully embrace Senate rules reform – it is the Republicans’ filibuster en masse, without regard to the merits of individual nominees, which represents a radical departure from Senate history.

  • Claims that Senate Rules Reform Would Be Unprecedented Miss the Mark: As CWA President Larry Cohen told Orlando Sentinel editorial writer Paul Owens: “Our coalition supports common-sense changes to the rules at the start of a new legislative session. We also support use of a procedural motion (used 18 times since 1978) that enables nominations to get an up-or-down vote. It's Senate gridlock that is doing serious damage to our democracy.”  Here is a list of the 18 different times since the mid-1970s in which the U.S. Senate changed its practices by a simple-majority vote (including efforts led by institutional stalwarts like Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV)).

The Fix the Senate Now coalition is increasing its efforts to explain the urgent need for reform.  Activities include: 

  • New POLITICO Ad Featuring Images of Four Most Recent Filibustered Nominees, Calls for Up-or-Down Vote Now: Fix the Senate Now is running a new advertisement in POLITICO, featuring the images of four recent nominees whom Senate Republicans filibustered – the three D.C. Circuit nominees, Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins, as well as Rep. Mel Watt’s (R-NC) nomination to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). “End the Gridlock.  Give these Highly Qualified Nominees an Up-or-Down Vote Now!”  The ad can be seen here 
  • Organizational Sign-On Letter to Demonstrate that Senate Status Quo is Unacceptable: The Fix the Senate Now coalition is circulating a new sign-on letter from organizations to make clear the breadth of opposition to the current obstruction on display in the Senate.
  • Escalating Actions & Activities: The Fix the Senate Now coalition and supportive organizations have been escalating their activities in recent weeks. For example, the Fix the Senate Now coalition sent an e-mail to its activists list and has been engaging and educating the public via its Facebook page. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) sent e-mail and SMS alerts to over 200,000 activists asking them to contact their Senators to support rules reform. Sierra Club issued an action alert and encouraged members to send emails to Senators responding to their vote on the Nina Pillard nomination. Common Cause has used its Facebook and Twitter pages to alert its tens of thousands of followers to contact their Senators to support a rules change.

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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Timeline of Republican Obstruction

2010: Citing record use of filibusters in the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., seek rules change.

January 2011: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reach "handshake agreement" deal on scaled-down rules reform.

In an exchange entered into the record:

  • Sen. Reid: "In particular, I hope we can reach an agreement to move nominees in regular order."
  • Sen. McConnell: "I agree that the Senate spends too much time dealing with a growing number of nominees."

On Jan. 24, Sen. McConnell said, “Senate Republicans will continue to work with the majority to process nominations, consistent with the norms and traditions of the Senate."

May 2011: 9th Circuit nominee Goodwin Liu blocked on ideological grounds. Shortly thereafter, Nobel Prize winning economist Peter Diamond withdraws his name for Fed seat because of GOP obstruction

June 2011: Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announce bipartisan deal to streamline Senate confirmation process. The proposal, which exempted a range of positions from Senate confirmation, passes 79-20.

October 2011: Republicans obstruct China currency bill by attaching an amendment from Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., overturning an EPA regulation on air pollution. Senate Democrats invoke "nuclear option" regarding amendments offered after Senate invokes cloture.

  • Under the new rule passed by Senate Democrats, only amendments that both parties agree to can be considered for a vote after a filibuster is defeated.

December 2011: GOP blocks Caitlin Halligan, nominated for the D.C.Circuit and Richard Cordray, nominated to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

March 2012: After GOP slow-walks nominees, Sen. Reid files cloture on 17 judicial nominations.

  • “Unfortunately for tens of millions of Americans, that right to equal justice under law is at risk, and I’m sorry to say it’s at risk because of Republican ideology,” Sen. Reid said. “Americans can no longer rely on fair and speedy trials.”

May 2012: Sen. Reid apologizes to Sen. Merkley and Sen. Udall, saying they were right.

  • Calling the two senators behind the push – Sen. Udall and Sen. Merkley - "prophetic," Sen. Reid said: "These two young, fine senators said it was time to change the rules of the Senate, and we didn't. They were right. The rest of us were wrong -- or most of us, anyway. What a shame."

January 2013: Senate passes rules change that limits subcabinet nominees to 8 hours of post-cloture debate, rather than 30.

February 2013:  Chuck Hagel becomes first-ever Defense Secretary to be filibustered.

March 2013: Republicans block Caitlin Halligan for DC Circuit seat for the 2nd time, forcing her to withdraw her name from consideration.

July 2013: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., strikes deal with Sen. Reid to break logjam on nominees. Richard Cordray is finally confirmed after more than 700 days of waiting. Also confirmed is Fred Hochberg to be president of the Export-Import Bank, Thomas Perez to be secretary of Labor, Gina McCarthy to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and several National Labor Relations Board nominees.

October/November 2013: GOP filibusters Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., and 3 D.C. Circuit Court nominees: Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard and Robert Wilkins. Leading the crusade against the nominees, is Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who says there are not enough cases for the Circuit Court to be fully staffed.

 

Another Week, Another GOP Filibuster of Qualified Judicial Nominee

Fix the Senate Now: “Those intent on preserving the norms and traditions of the U.S. Senate should embrace this rules reform effort…”

 

Washington, DC – Today, Robert Wilkins became the latest qualified nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals to the D.C. Circuit to be filibustered by Senate Republicans.  Despite receiving support from a majority of Senators, including Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)], the filibuster blocks Wilkins’ nomination from moving forward to an up-or-down vote.

The following is a statement from Fix the Senate Now:

“Another week and another Senate Republican filibuster of a qualified nominee to the D.C. Circuit.

“As was the case for Nina Pillard and Patricia Millett, today’s vote blocking the advancement of Robert Wilkins was not about the merits of the nominee.  Instead, it is another transparent reminder of Senate Republicans’ strategy to deny President Obama his constitutional authority to fill three outstanding judicial vacancies. As former Republican Senator Olympia Snowe said to POLITICO, ‘When you have these back-to-back rejections of nominees, at some point it may be trying to reverse the results of the election.’

“If Senate Republicans continue to block an up-or-down vote for qualified nominees, the Senate Democratic caucus must embrace Senate rules reform.

“Those intent on preserving the norms and traditions of the U.S. Senate should embrace this reform effort – it is the Republicans’ filibuster en masse and without regard to the individual merits of nominees that already represents a radical departure from Senate 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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Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, November 15, 2013

Washington, DC – Earlier this week, Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Nina Pillard to the D.C. Circuit – the second time in the past two weeks that Senate Republicans have denied an up-or-down vote on the nomination of a qualified nominee to the DC Circuit and the third highly qualified woman in a row to be blocked by Senate Republicans for a vacant DC Circuit slot. Already, Senate Republicans are pledging to use Senate obstructionist tools to block an up-or-down vote for another nominee to the DC Circuit, Robert Wilkins.

As Fix the Senate Now noted, the Republican strategy of judicial obstruction en masse is unprecedented in American history. If Senate Republicans continue to block an up-or-down vote for these qualified nominees, the Senate Democratic caucus must embrace rules reform.  Elections have consequences, qualified nominees deserve votes, and Senate Republican intransigence cannot be rewarded any longer. Many other voices are lifting up similar themes – the unprecedented nature of the Senate Republicans’ obstruction and the need to re-open the rules reform debate, should this obstruction continue.

See below for this week’s key commentary and analysis:

Senate Voices

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “I’m glad that I’m not the only one out talking about this … We have someone who [has] never, ever been upfront on rules changes — that’s Sen. Leahy, who said he’s really disturbed about what’s going on.”  Additionally, Senator Reid noted, “Senate Republicans seem poised to block consideration of this eminently qualified woman for a blatantly political reason—to deny President Obama his constitutional right to appoint judges.”
  • Senator Tim Kaine: “I'm very open to rules changes because we can't allow laws to be nullified … And so the D.C. Circuit is an example. ... It's kind of an attempt to nullify the law using the filibuster. So we have to explore rules changes."
  • Senator Patrick Leahy: “I’ve been here longer than anybody else serving in the Senate. I’ve always tried to protect the rules in Republican majorities and Democratic majorities, because my experience has been they were used responsibly. Very, very rarely were they used to filibuster. That’s become a thing of the past. I think we’re at the point where there will have to be a rules change.”  Senator Leahy also said, “If the Republican caucus continues to abuse the filibuster rule and obstruct the president's fine nominees to the D.C. Circuit, then I believe ... a rules change should be in order.”
  • Senator Jeff Merkley: “There is, in a democracy, power that goes with the voice of the people. When people elect a president, there are electing him for his nominating powers as well as his management.”
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren: “We need to call out these filibusters for what they are: Naked attempts to nullify the results of the last election … “If Republicans continue to filibuster these highly qualified nominees for no reason other than to nullify the president’s constitutional authority, then senators not only have the right to change the filibuster, senators have a duty to change the filibuster rules. We cannot turn our backs on the Constitution. We cannot abdicate our oath of office.”

Coalition Voices:

  • Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice: “We’re operating in a whole different world now. The filibuster was used only a handful of times by Democrats to register opposition to judicial nominees on merit. Now, judicial nominees are being filibustered for an entirely different reason, and that is solely for the purpose of obstruction, regardless of who the nominee is. This shouldn’t be necessary at all—to call for rules reform—but if Republicans are going to block votes on judicial nominees ... to obstruct, then the Democrats have no choice but to call for Senate floor reforms.”
  • Larry Cohen of the Communications Workers of America (CWA): “At least 100 other nominations are backed up in some way including three nominations to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and a wide range of executive and judicial branch nominees. President Obama's term is over in three years and many of these nominees agreed to serve nearly one year ago.  Again there is an opportunity for the Senate majority to act like a majority and restore at least some sense of democracy.”
  • Courtney Hight of the Sierra Club: “The truth is the band of shameless extremists in the Senate could not care less about how well-qualified these nominees are. They'll block them from doing their job simply because they and their allies -- like big polluters and other extremists -- are the only ones who benefit from the unprecedented gridlock they've created.”

Outside Observer Voices:

  • Jennifer Bendery in Huffington Post: “Republicans readily admit their opposition to Pillard isn't about her. In fact, they don't really have a problem with any of Obama's picks for the D.C. Circuit, the second most powerful court in the nation. They just don't want him to fill its three vacancies.”
  • Jonathan Bernstein in the Washington Post: “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 … All of which means that sooner or later, Democrats will have to draw a line. Indeed, the only way to save the filibuster is to threaten, right now, to get rid of it. And if Republicans don’t back down, as they did this summer? Then the filibuster is going to die, so might as well get it over with.”
  • Brian Beutler in Salon: “But their current position — daring Dems to go all the way nuclear or cave completely — gives Dems almost no choice but to pull the trigger. If Republicans had meritorious objections to any of these nominees, the nuclear threat would be a disproportional escalation. Obama could find other judges. What they’re doing instead is a judicial replay of their unacceptable bid to unilaterally gut Wall Street’s consumer watchdog office and void the National Labor Relations Board. Democrats didn’t stand for that, and won. Republicans caved and confirmed several waylaid executive branch nominees over the course of just a few days. They should run the same play again. And if Republicans don’t fold, they should go nuclear.”
  • Jamelle Bouie in the Daily Beast: “Republicans aren’t concerned with the workload of the court and aren’t defending a particular principle. They simply want to keep Obama from leaving his stamp on the federal judiciary. Democrats have a choice. They can nuke the filibuster and defend the president’s prerogative, or, they can let the GOP establish a new precedent, where the Senate only confirms Republicans nominees.”
  • Scott Lemieux in the American Prospect: “But as with the ‘court-packing’ nonsense, one doubts that even the senators making these silly arguments believe them. This isn't about stopping a particularly extreme nominee from being confirmed—the Republican simply opposes Obama making any further appointments to the D.C. Circuit in principle. Should they persist, Senate Democrats need to blow up the filibuster and allow presidents of both parties to staff the judicial branch.”

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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FTSN: Latest GOP Filibuster of Qualified Judicial Nominee a Reminder of Why We Need Rules Reform

“Elections have consequences, qualified nominees deserve votes, and Senate Republican intransigence cannot be rewarded any longer”

 

Washington, DC – Today in the U.S. Senate, Republicans filibustered the nomination of Nina Pillard to fill one of three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals to the D.C. Circuit.

This is the second time in the past two weeks that Senate Republicans have filibustered the nomination of a qualified nominee to the DC Circuit and the third highly qualified woman in a row to be filibustered by Senate Republicans for a vacant DC Circuit slot. Already, Senate Republicans are pledging to filibuster another nominee to the DC Circuit, Robert Wilkins.

The following is a statement from Fix the Senate Now:

“The Republican strategy of judicial obstruction en masse is unprecedented in American history.

“While past battles over judicial nominees have centered on the relative merits and qualifications of the nominee, the back-to-back filibusters of Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard are simply about obstruction for obstruction’s sake. As ThinkProgress recently assessedhttp://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/07/24/2347071/conservatives-gear-up-for-war-to-keep-top-womens-rights-attorney-off-the-bench/, ‘few lawyers have done more to advance the cause of women’s equality than Nina Pillard — and few lawyers have been as successful in their efforts to do so.’ Meanwhile, even Senator Ted Cruz noted approvingly of Patricia Millett’s ‘very fine professional qualifications.’

“Instead of questions about the nominees’ merits, Senate Republicans’ obstruction is a transparent attempt to deny President Obama his constitutional authority to fill three outstanding judicial vacancies. The supposed rationale behind the obstruction – court-packing and insufficient caseloads – do not pass the laugh test. The fact is, Senate Republicans are intent to block every nominee that would alter the current ideological balance of the D.C. Circuit.  The norms and traditions of the U.S. Senate hold that qualified nominees deserve more than this blanket obstruction. 

“If Senate Republicans continue to block an up-or-down vote for these qualified nominees, the Senate Democratic caucus must embrace rules reform. As we noted upon the occasion of the Millett filibuster, functional government and an operational U.S. Senate cannot be an occasional principle. Elections have consequences, qualified nominees deserve votes, and Senate Republican intransigence cannot be rewarded any longer. “


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

ICYMI: Major Papers Criticize Senate GOP Obstruction & Call for Senate Reform

N.Y. Times and L.A. Times Call for Filibuster Reform, While Washington Post Calls Out GOP “Transparently Self-Serving” Motivations Behind Latest Obstruction

 

Washington, DC – Yesterday, Republicans filibustered the nomination of Patricia Millett, the first of three nominees to fill existing vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as well as the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

In response, the Fix the Senate Now coalition noted that functional government and an operational U.S. Senate cannot be an occasional principle. Democrats must be prepared to change the Senate rules should Republicans continue to block these qualified nominees from receiving an up-or-down vote.

Leading newspaper editorial pages agree, criticizing the Republicans obstruction and, in the case of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, urging Senate Democrats to reform the Senate’s rules to prevent such meritless obstruction:

  • New York Times Editorial, “The Politics of Petulance”: “Republicans seem not to accept that Mr. Obama’s job includes nominating judges to the federal appeals courts. Absent extraordinary circumstances, those nominees should get up-or-down votes on their merits, as the majority of Mr. Bush’s D.C. Circuit nominees did … We have called for an end to filibusters of judicial nominations, and for the Senate to change its rules to require votes on all judicial and executive nominees within 90 days. The filibuster has at times been an important tool for the minority to block extremist nominees. Its current abuse, however, is out of control. Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, warned before the vote Thursday that ‘if Republican senators are going to hold nominations hostage without consideration of their individual merit, drastic measures may be warranted.’ It is well past time to make good on that threat, and force the Senate to do its job.”
  • Los Angeles Times, Editorial: “Returning to the Bad Old Days of the Filibuster”: “This summer, Senate Democrats seemed poised to invoke the ‘nuclear option’ to prevent Republicans from filibustering important Obama administration nominees. Majority Leader Harry Reid drew back at the last minute when Republicans allowed a handful of nominees to be confirmed on up-or-down votes. ‘We have a new start for this body, and I feel very comfortable with it,’ Reid said. Reid obviously spoke too soon. On Thursday, Senate Republicans were up to their old tricks, blocking votes on two nominees, one of them a respected Washington lawyer whom the president would like to put on the federal appeals court in Washington. It's past time for Senate Democrats to go nuclear — Washington-speak for a parliamentary maneuver in which the vice president (who serves as president of the Senate) would rule that a simple majority vote is sufficient to end debate on a nomination. This page supported the nuclear option when it was under consideration by the Republican-controlled Senate at a time when Democrats were filibustering President George W. Bush's nominees. Now Republicans are the obstructionists, even when they have no quarrel with a nominee's qualifications … In the "Peanuts" comic strip, Charlie Brown never realized that Lucy couldn't be trusted when she promised not to pull the football away at the last minute. We hope Harry Reid is quicker on the uptake and will recognize that a ‘new start’ for the Senate requires triggering the nuclear option.

Additionally, while not endorsing filibuster reform, the Washington Post yesterday criticized Senate Republicans’ “transparently self-serving” motivations behind the latest nominee obstruction:

  • Washington Post Editorial, “Stripping a Court as a Political Ploy”: instead of being judged on her merits, Ms. Millett may well end up a victim of a GOP campaign against allowing any more of Mr. Obama’s nominees onto the D.C. Circuit. Though Republicans pushed to fill its 11 seats when George W. Bush was president, they now argue that it doesn’t need more than its current eight judges, and that Mr. Obama is trying to ‘pack’ the court. Some have backed a bill from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that would strip the court of its vacancies rather than consider the president’s duly appointed picks to fill them … These moves are transparently self-serving, and would encourage similar behavior by Democrats against Republican presidents. The recent history of the confirmation process is a steady descent into unreasonable partisanship; if acted upon, the Republicans’ position would be another step down.”

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

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"A Functional Senate Cannot Be an Occasional Principle? ? Senate Dems Must Re-Open Rules Reform

Washington, DC – In the U.S. Senate today, Republicans filibustered the nomination of Patricia Millett, the first of three nominees to fill existing vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as well as the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

The Fix the Senate Now coalition released the following statement in response

“There they go again. After a step forward on executive branch nominees this summer, Senate Republicans are again reverting to their unacceptable, obstructionist ways. 

“The qualifications of DC Circuit nominee Patricia Millett and her potential colleagues are unassailable. But Senate Republicans are so insistent to deny President Obama his constitutional authority to fill three outstanding judicial vacancies that they are resorting to ridiculous claims. Like Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, we reject the notion that the D.C. Circuit caseload is insufficient to justify new confirmations. And the ‘court packing’ charges are so self-evidently ridiculous that they barely deserve a response. Regarding Rep. Mel Watt, Republicans should admit that they don’t like FHFA and Rep. Watt’s record of siding with consumers ahead of banking interests, instead of pretending he was unqualified (See here for an overview of Rep. Watt’s stellar qualifications).

“The lessons over this summer’s Senate rules battle should be clear. As Senate Majority Leader Reid pledged, Democrats must be prepared to change the Senate rules should Republicans continue to block these qualified nominees from receiving an up-or-down vote. If Republicans continue with their obstruction, Senator Reid must live up to his threat to change the Senate rules.

“Functional government and an operational U.S. Senate cannot be an occasional principle.” 

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

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