Fix the Senate Now

Americans United for Change Video Spotlights GOP Obstruction

Not that Americans needed anymore evidence, but Americans United for Change put together this great video detailing Republican obstructionism in the Senate.

The video, “GOP: Grand Obstruction Party,” details a number of bills that would have passed in the Senate, but were derailed by a minority of Senators, namely Republicans, who invoked the filibuster.

ICYMI: U.S. Senate Has Changed its Practices By Simple Majority Vote 18 Different Times Since 1977

Washington, DC – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) today announced his plans to file cloture on a series of obstructed executive branch nominees to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Labor, Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB), and Export-Import Bank, and a slate of nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Notably, Senate Majority Leader Reid pledged that if the Senate Republicans continued to block these nominees from advancing to an up-or-down vote, the Senate Democratic caucus was prepared to overhaul Senate procedures related to the filibuster and to establish a simple majority vote threshold for their confirmation.

While the Fix the Senate Now coalition supports reforms designed to improve Senate functionality and raise the costs of obstruction, the claims that what Senator Reid is proposing is unprecedented miss the mark. Below is a recap of the 18 instances since 1977 in which the U.S. Senate changed its practices by a simple-majority vote (compiled by Senator Jeff Merkley’s office):

  • 1977: The Senate limits post-cloture filibusters by establishing that the Chair must take the initiative to rule out of order amendments that are dilatory or otherwise out of order under cloture
  • December 12, 1979: The Senate establishes that if the Senate stays in session past midnight on the intervening day after a cloture motion is filed, then the cloture vote doesn’t occur until an hour after convening on the next legislative day (ruling sustained 43-32)
  • November 9, 1979: The Senate establishes that the Chair should rule on whether an amendment is legislating on appropriations rather than submitting it to the Senate and allowing a defense of germaneness if the underlying House appropriations bill has no legislative language to which the amendment is germane (ruling sustained 44-40)
  • March 5, 1979: The Senate establishes that the Chair should rule on whether an amendment is legislating on appropriations rather than submitting it to the Senate and allowing a defense of germaneness if the underlying House appropriations bill has no legislative language to which the amendment is germane (ruling sustained 44-00)
  • June 10, 1980: the Senate establishes that a quorum call during post-cloture time is dilatory even though a motion to reconsider has been made since a quorum was last demonstrated *ruling 52-34)
  • June 11, 1980: The Senate establishes that during post-cloture time, a motion to reconsider a vote by which a tabling motion had failed by large margins is dilatory (ruling sustained 53-31)
  • August 5, 1980: The Senate establishes that a cloture motion takes precedence over a time agreement ordered by unanimous consent on the same measure (ruling sustained 71-16)
  • August 20, 1980: The Senate establishes that a cloture motion may be filed on a pending amendment even if it has lower precedence than an amendment that is the immediately pending question (ruling sustained 74-15)
  • December 11, 1985: The Senate allows a conference report on the basis that everything included is “relevant,” even though multiple provisions have been ruled to violate the scope if the conference committee’s authority (rules reversed 27-68)
  • September 25, 1986: The Senate establishes that procedural motions or requests do not constitute speeches for purposes of the two-speech rule (ruling reversed 5-92)
  • April 28, 1987: The Senate establishes that the Presiding Officer should defer to the Budget Committee Chair on whether an amendment violate Section 201 (i) of the Budget Act (ruling sustained 50-46)
  • May 13, 1987: The Senate establishes that a Senator may not decline to vote when it is done for the purposes of delaying the announcement of that vote (ruling reversed 46-54)
  • March 16, 1995: The Senate allows legislating on appropriations bills (ruling reversed 42-57) [this precedent was reversed in 1999 by resolution]
  • May 23, 1996: The Senate establishes that a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions for a measure increasing the deficit is appropriate (ruling sustained 53-47)
  • October 3, 1996: The Senate broadens the scope of allowable material in conference reports (ruling reverse 39-56) [this precedent was reversed in 2000 by language in an appropriations bill]
  • June 16, 1999: The Senate establishes that a motion to recommit a bill with instructions to report back an amendment had to be filed before the amendment filing (ruling sustained 60-39)
  • May 17, 2000: The Senate establishes that it is the Chair’s prerogative to rule out of order non-germane precatory (sense-of-the-Senate or–of-Congress) amendments (ruling reversed 45-54)
  • October 6, 2011: The Senate establishes that motions to suspend the rules in order to consider non-germane amendments post cloture are dilatory and not allowed (ruling reversed 48-51)

  • For more information, or to schedule an interview with Fix the Senate Now leaders, contact Michael Earls at 202-261-2388, media@fixthesenatenow.org

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Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, June 28, 2013

Washington DC – Here are last week’s big developments and observations regarding Senate rules reform.  Now that immigration legislation has passed the Senate, many expect the battle over obstructed executive branch and judicial nominees to take center stage in July.  Among last week’s key developments ahead of the upcoming and renewed Senate rules battle include:

Senate Voices:

  • Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), in an interview with Daily Kos’s Joan McCarter: “One is that the Republicans block them [President’s slate of nominees], and we do nothing. That is absolutely unacceptable. The second is that they block them and we say, well if you block them we're going to change the rules and they say well we won't block them. That will be essentially a repeat of 2005, when the Republicans basically said that to the Democrats. Either you stop blocking or we'll change the rules. There was a deal, and the deal involved Democrats not filibustering. Or, the Republicans say no, no deal and then we need to change the rules. And we need to change it on both executive branch nominees and judiciary nominees.”
  • Senator ‘Mo’ Cowan (D-MA), in an exit interview with the Washington Post: “Procedurally, the filibuster rules flummox me. If you’re observing all of this from the outside, it’s hard to imagine why if you get 51 votes you don’t win the day. And so I am coming to understand … the rhyme and reason behind the 60-vote super-majority.”

Commentary and Analysis:

  • Valerie Volcovici, Reuters: “[EPA Nominee Gina] McCarthy has worked for several Republican governors, including 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts. She was seen by many as a choice that could work with lawmakers from both parties … But many Republicans are bitterly against proposed new regulations from the EPA on coal-fired power plants and could seek to block McCarthy's confirmation. McCarthy has received public support from industry representatives and environmental groups alike for her ability to navigate political divisions. Roy and other analysts have said opposition to her confirmation has less to do with her and more to do with ideological opposition to regulation.”

This week in the Texas state legislature, State Senator Wendy Davis delivered an old fashioned and widely-covered talking filibuster on the floor.  As Fix the Senate Now noted after U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) delivered a real filibuster, “If the Senate had adopted more substantial reforms in January, Senator Paul’s version of accountable obstruction would be the norm, not the outlier.”  A range of observers captured the distinctions between the Davis filibuster in Texas and the default obstruction in the U.S. Senate:

  • Ned Resnikoff, MSNBC: “Texan State Senator Wendy Davis was so determined to stop the passage of a bill that would have ended access to safe abortions in Texas Tuesday, that she set out to complete a 13-hour filibuster, without assistance or interruption. This was a real filibuster, not the pale shadow of the one currently practiced in the United States Senate. Under state senate rules, Davis had to speak continuously and remain upright on the senate floor without pausing for bathroom or meal breaks for more than half a day. Had she paused, exited the room, or even leaned against a pillar at any point during the filibuster, it would have come to a premature end and the Texas Senate would have been able to vote on its 20-week abortion ban.”
  • David Weigel, Slate: “Simple: Liberals and Democrats don't "hate the filibuster." They currently hate the bottlenecks of Senate debate that require 60 votes to move ahead on debates or final votes … In January they got most of their senators behind a reform plan that didn't eliminate the filibuster. It would have required opponents of a bill to hold the floor and speak against a bill if they were trying to stop it. This was what Rand Paul did; this was what Wendy Davis did. Based on what Manjoo et al are saying, it seems like the "filibuster means talking" meme runs deep. And that misunderstanding is very good for Republicans who want to retain the ability to, say, kill a gun control bill without actually having to hold the floor and speak against it.”

As nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) languish, the Supreme Court announced earlier this week they will hear the Noel Canning case this fall – the judicial pretext many Republicans are using to block the NLRB nominees from advancing in the Senate.  In light of the fact that American labor law could be inoperable by Labor Day unless the NLRB nominees move forward, the American people can’t wait a year for justice – their rights are under threat right now due to Senate obstruction, making a strong case for rules reform:

  • Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly: “Now obviously the Court isn’t going to be hearing, much less deciding, the case before the scheduled filibuster fight next month. But if it becomes apparent the Court is intervening on this issue in order to confirm the lower courts’ overturning of the traditional option of recess appointments, then it could have the short-term effect of convincing wavering Senate Democrats that there is no alternative to filibuster reform. Since the impending showdown could very easily come down to one or two such waverers, this could turn out to be a very big deal.”
  • Bruce Vail, In These Times, in a interview with President of Communications Workers of America, Larry Cohen:  “What Cohen means is this: Unless the Senate approves Pearce’s re-nomination, the voting strength of the board will fall to only two, below the three-person quorum for its continued legal operation. “That would be a dismal outcome for 80 million American workers” whose labor rights could not be enforced by the shrunken NLRB, Cohen says. Charged with implementation of the landmark National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the NLRB is the only federal government agency that has the power to enforce workers’ collective bargaining rights in the workplace, Cohen emphasizes. If allowed to fall victim to Republican obstructionism now, the damage to workers will be lasting, and perhaps irreversible, he says.”

 

Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, June 21, 2013

Washington DC – With U.S. Senate rules reform back on the agenda in Washington, both outside observers and Senators are talking about the obstructionism against executive branch and judicial nominations and ways to resolve the Senate’s gridlock:

Senate Voices:

  • Senator John McCain (R-AZ), answering a question from Talking Points Memo on giving D.C. Court of Appeals nominees an up-or-down vote: “I’ve always believed that … There has to be extraordinary circumstances to vote against them.”

Key Analysis and Coverage

  • Greg Sargent, Washington Post: “Currently they [Senate GOP] are expected to filibuster Obama’s pick as Labor Secretary and his choices to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency, and they are threatening to oppose his three nominations for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. All of these are key to Obama’s ability to move his agenda forward. But the numbers are such that we simply can’t be sure whether Dems can make good on the threat to change the rules by hitting the nuke button.”
  • Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo: “After Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warned Tuesday that going nuclear on filibuster reform for nominations would lead to the end of the 60-vote threshold for all matters, Democrats quickly pointed out that McConnell had supported a similar proposal during the 2005 filibuster battles. Back then Democrats were in the minority and McConnell was part of the Republican leadership that was deeply frustrated with Democrats’ use of the filibuster against President Bush’s judicial nominees to fill coveted vacancies. McConnell supported eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court and appeals court nominations.”
  • Jennifer Bendery, Huffington Post: “Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) spent most of Tuesday criticizing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for signaling that he may go back on his initial pledge to not make changes to Senate filibuster rules. But it turns out Alexander hasn't exactly stuck to his own filibuster pledge … Regardless of what's happened in the past several months, Alexander said Tuesday that the bottom line is that Reid made a promise. And in the Senate, a person's word is what people count on the most … But the Tennessee Republican didn't mention his own pledge to "never filibuster a president's judicial nominees," a promise he has broken numerous times.”

Outside Observers and Commentary:

  • Editorial, USA Today: “Enough already with the partisan tit-for-tat. The Constitution gives senators an advise-and-consent role, but that comes with two unwritten rules: Filibusters should be used only to stop nominees who are clearly unqualified or outside the broad judicial mainstream. And presidential elections should matter.”
  • Megan D. Hannan, member of Courts Matter to Maine, Bangor Daily News (Maine): “Because the federal courts decide critical issues that affect the daily lives of Americans, we need a fully staffed and functional court system. Our elected representatives need to ensure that we have one. President Barack Obama recently presented three new nominations to the D.C. Circuit. Call on Collins to stop playing politics with the court system, to end the filibusters to all federal courts, and to vote on these nominees, one way or the other.
  • Al Kamen, Washington Post: “Democrats, though, say the speed at which the Senate has been moving of late isn’t the entire picture. Their arguments are threefold. First, they note that the Senate floor isn’t the only choke point for judicial nominees; Republican senators are holding up nominees earlier in the process, including failing to submit “blue slips,” the way home-state senators indicate that they don’t have objections to a nominee. (Twenty-two nominees are awaiting votes at the Senate Judiciary Committee.) Some vacancies have remained without nominees because home-state senators have yet to make recommendations to the White House to begin with. In states with GOP senators, that means they can delay the process there. (We hear that President Obama has sufficiently badgered Democratic senators to start providing names of judges, and observers are expecting a “raft” of new names from the White House soon.)”
  • Steve Benen, MSNBC: “It's my understanding that there are a handful of Senate Democrats who remain on the fence when it comes to changing the rules and pulling the trigger on the "nuclear option" -- enough to sway the outcome in the event of a floor fight. I'm not sure what it'll take to sway them one way or the other, but if they're rattled by Republican chest-thumping, they're not paying close enough attention.”
  • Stephen Spaulding, Common Cause: “The framers would be appalled by a Senate that requires 60-votes for every item of legislative business and confirmation of nominees … Our government is being held hostage by a minority of the Senate. The Constitution is clear when a supermajority is required: overriding presidential vetoes and ratifying treaties, for example. Passing legislation and confirming nominees do not.”
  • Larry Cohen, President of Communications Workers of America, The Hill: “It's up to the Democratic majority in the Senate and the Senate leadership to move forward, particularly on what should be a narrow issue of getting the president's nominees confirmed … The Senate majority must act in July.”

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    ICYMI: Voices Highlight Consequences of Senate Nominee Obstruction

    Washington DC – Though immigration reform legislation has taken center stage in the Senate this week, a range of voices are continuing to highlight unprecedented obstruction of executive and judicial nominations, focusing on the effects of these delays on the American people and bolstering the case for Senate rules reform in July.

    Key Analysis and Coverage:

    • Tom Curry, NBC News: “There’s more here than just the normal Washington tactical maneuvering – it reflects Senate Republicans’ strategy to use McCarthy’s nomination as leverage in forcing changes in the way the EPA operates. And the power struggle affects Americans far beyond Washington, D.C. – whether the water they drink is clean or dirty, whether the company that employs them must comply with costly environmental regulations, or not.”
    • Steve Frank, MSNBC: “After working a double shift, the last thing a worker wants to hear about is the filibuster. But unprecedented Republican obstruction has consequences that affect nearly every American … And they threaten to make the National Labor Relations Board obsolete, leaving 80 million workers across America without vital safeguards … This goes far beyond judicial seats and labor. This is about democracy. This is about Republicans doing everything in their power to block the will of the people and this president and denying the last two presidential elections even took place.”

    Outside Observers and Commentary:

    • Editorial, Charleston Gazette (WV): “ancient Senate rules let the Republican minority threaten a filibuster, which meant that passage required a 60 percent majority of senators … It's a shame that this parliamentary trick is needed to let the Senate perform its job of confirming appointees. Preferably, Senate rules should be changed to abolish filibusters entirely. Democracy works by majority rule, and minorities shouldn't continue obstructing democracy.”
    • Editorial, The Advocate (LA): “Lifetime appointments to federal courts cannot be approved by the Senate without care and deliberation, but in today’s hyper-political world they have become almost pure political prizes. This does a disservice to the courts, to the nation and also to the nominees. Many have to wait more than a year for even a hearing before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, and some don’t even get that courtesy … The three are qualified and deserve a quick and respectful hearing in Judiciary, and then an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. Neither party has a perfect track record here, but the Senate should start to mend its record on judicial nominations this year.”
    • Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO, and Rick Bloomingdale, President of Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, Delaware County Times: “Justice delayed is justice denied, and justice to working people is being seriously denied because of the instability being forced upon the NLRB. President Obama has taken an important step toward restoring stability to our system of labor-management relations by nominating a full, bipartisan package of nominees to the NLRB. Pennsylvania’s working people can’t wait in limbo any longer. Responsibility for providing needed stability and the functioning NLRB working people need and deserve is now up to the U.S. Senate. The Senate should act quickly and confirm the president’s full slate of nominees.”
    • Ian Reifowitz, Huffington Post: “Today's partisan maneuvering is far more vicious than what happened under the previous Democratic minority … Nowadays, the Senate minority is seeking to block as many nominees as possible in order to prevent Obama from moving the judiciary in a direction that fits with his thinking … It's time to go nuclear. The facts that Goldman's study lays out make it clear that Senate Republicans don't believe Democrats, even when they win an election, should be allowed to govern. After the last election, Reid agreed to modest measures of "filibuster reform" that Republicans promptly ignored. Now it's time to call out their strategy of blanket obstruction for what it is: the subversion of democracy.”
    • Isaiah J. Poole, Campaign for America’s Future: “A narrow, 51-vote majority in the Senate supported legislation that would have kept student loan rates from increasing above 3.4 percent for the next two years, and would have covered the costs to the government by ending two tax breaks enjoyed by wealthy individuals and one used by oil companies. Nonetheless, in a Senate in which the filibuster has become routine, Republicans united to block debate and an up-or-down vote on the bill. Since all it takes is 40 votes to keep a bill from getting a full airing on the Senate floor and then either approval or defeat by majority vote on its merits, Republicans can continue their scorched-earth obstruction.”

    Coalition Voices:

    • Sierra Club ‘Give Us 5 NLRB Nominees’ ad featured in Roll Call: “We can’t hold big polluters accountable or protect the rights of American workers and consumers if we’ve got no cops on the beat. But, inaction in the Senate has left key watchdog agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Labor Relations Board without leaders while putting key safeguards in jeopardy. The Senate Majority needs to break the logjam and confirm the President’s qualified nominees to fix the Senate and show the American people they can still get things done.”
      • David Foster, Executive Director of the BlueGreen Alliance: “We need leaders in these vital positions to move our country forward, and these delay tactics put workers, the environment, and our economy at risk. Instead of stalling, Senate Republicans should swiftly process their nominations and help them by putting forward measures that create jobs, strengthen and renew efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and better protect public health.”
      • Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers:“Refusal to act in the Senate is undermining the ability to protect workers everywhere — especially at the NLRB and the Department of Labor. More and more, vacancies at key agencies go unfilled while less and less is getting done to ensure safe workplaces and communities.”
      • Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club: “If the Senate is truly interested in giving American families the full protection of the law, they’ll break the logjam and confirm the qualified nominees to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, and courtrooms across the country.”
      • D. Michael Langford, National President of the Utility Workers Union of America: “This obstructionism brings our most basic democratic processes to a halt … Too many legislative priorities remain tied up in a flawed Senate procedure. The Senate’s failure to confirm highly qualified agency nominees and judges is unacceptable and must stop immediately.”
      • Peter Lehner, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council: “Advice and consent’ has been replaced by delay and obstruct. There is simply no excuse for the Senate Republican leadership preventing the courts and key federal agencies from being able to carry out their duties at full strength. In the case of EPA, Senate Republican tactics have resulted in an unprecedented delay in confirming Gina McCarthy even though she served under Republican governors and the Senate had already confirmed her for a related post. This is not a rational way to run a country.”
      • Bob King, President of the United Auto Workers: “In case after case the Republicans are grossly abusing filibuster rules to block hundreds of President Obama's appointments — both judicial and important department appointments. Their goal is to make our government less and less effective in protecting and responding to the needs of our citizens. They then turn around and blame President Obama and the Democrats for an ineffective government! Vicious, unethical, and unprincipled politics over the good of our country!”

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        ICYMI: Voices Highlight ?Unprecedented? Obstruction, Call for Senate Reform

        Washington, DC – In his remarks announcing the nomination of three individuals to fill vacancies on the DC Circuit court, President Obama referred to the Senate’s track record of obstruction toward his nominees, “What’s happening now is unprecedented… For the good of the American people, it has to stop.”

        The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent examined President Obama’s remarks and lifts up several studies that confirm President Obama’s “unprecedented” claim:

        • Greg Sargent, Washington Post: “Dr. Sheldon Goldman, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who focuses on judicial nominations, has developed what he calls an “Index of Obstruction and Delay” designed to measure levels of obstructionism. In research that will be released in a July article he co-authored for Judicature Journal, he has calculated that the level of obstruction of Obama circuit court nominees during the last Congress was unprecedented.

        “‘It is true that when Democrats controlled the Senate and Republicans were in the White House, the index has spiked, especially during Bush’s first two years,’ Goldman says. ‘But it is unprecedented for the minority party to obstruct and delay to the level that Republicans have done to Obama in the 112th Congress.’

        “Meanwhile, a recent report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service concluded: President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).”

        Separate from the judicial arena and judging by the unprecedented obstruction faced by the President’s executive branch nominees (from NLRB nominees to the heads of EPA and the Department of Labor to the CFPB to the Secretary of Defense), the watered-down Senate rules reform agreement hasn’t reformed the obstruction in the Senate, because Senate Republicans haven’t lived up to their agreement. As a Democratic leadership aide noted to The Hill newspaper this week, “this agreement was a two-way street in which Senator McConnell committed to ‘process nominations, consistent with the norms and traditions of the Senate…By any fair accounting, Senate Republicans have failed to uphold their side of that agreement.”

        As a result, outside observers are raising their voices, highlighting the need for Senate reform, and calling on Senate Democrats to revisit reform if nominees face further Senate obstruction:

        • President Larry Cohen of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), as reported by Dave Jamieson in Huffington Post, “The head of a major labor union is warning Senate Democrats that those who aren't willing to take on Republicans over the obstruction of presidential nominees -- and deploy the so-called "nuclear option" if necessary for confirmation -- will lose the union's support. ‘We're done,’ a frustrated Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, said on call with reporters Monday. ‘We have said to them that we are not going to sit back and see these agencies literally fall apart ... We expect them to step up and tell us why we [should] care if on something this moderate -- the ability of the White House to govern -- you're not with us.’”
        • Joan Walsh, Salon: “Cohen wants the rule change to facilitate not just the confirmation of judicial nominees, as some have suggested, but agency appointments like seats on the National Labor Relations Board or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cohen’s tough stand is long past due for progressives. Compromising with Republicans only emboldens them. Now the Senate GOP majority isn’t merely trying to block Obama’s judicial nominees, but to actually reduce the number of judges on the influential D.C. Circuit Court.”
        • Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice, in a Politico opinion piece: “But even that [Obama naming D.C. Court of Appeals nominees] isn’t the end of the obstruction. We are pleased that two Senate committees were able to overcome stalling tactics and vote last month in favor of Obama’s highly qualified nominees to lead the Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency. The next step must be swift confirmation by the full Senate on the nominations of Tom Perez and Gina McCarthy … A solid majority of voters twice has made clear that they support the approach to government taken by Obama. In response, the Republican strategy boils down to rule or ruin. They have shown themselves prepared to paralyze government, no matter what the cost to the American people. In the months ahead, we will see whether the Senate is ready to break free of this paralysis.”
        • NAACP’s “Message to the Senate from the NAACP” ad featured in Politico: “A strong labor relations board is absolutely crucial to protecting the rights and concerns of racial and ethnic minorities as well as all Americans that work under the opportunities and protections offered by labor unions. Labor unions, more than any other institution in the United States, are responsible for creating and providing a pathway for more African Americans to enter into the middle class. The Senate must protect all workers and help preserve a strong middle class by confirming all five members of the NLRB.”

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        U.S. Senate Rules Reform ? Recap & Look Ahead

        Washington, DC – This past January, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed to a compromise on Senate rules and filibuster reform, stopping short of the meaningful changes sought by the Fix the Senate Now coalition and proposed by reform-minded Senators such as Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM). However, even the incremental improvements promised by the compromise agreement have failed to materialize, with Senate obstruction continuing at historic levels.

        Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on May 23rd, “Despite the agreement we reached in January, Republican obstruction on nominees continues unabated, no different than it was the last Congress.” As a result, Senate Majority Leader Reid has confirmed his intent to move a range of qualified executive branch and judicial nominees forward in July and to explore further rules changes in the U.S. Senate should Senate Republicans’ obstruction of these nominations continue

        The Fix the Senate Now applauds the renewed focus on Senate obstruction and supports efforts to restore the Senate to functionality. As USA Today recently editorialized, “[I]n recent years, the Senate has turned the confirmation process into a way to endlessly re-fight elections. As a result, key federal posts and judgeships remain vacant for long stretches, compromising the effectiveness of agencies and the courts. Neither party has clean hands … But now that Senate Republicans are in the minority, they have taken obstructionism to a new level.” 

        See below for a recap of why Senate reform is still sorely needed in regards to executive and judicial nominees, as well as an assessment of what’s to come in the weeks ahead:

        • Executive Branch Nominee Obstruction: What used to be sacrosanct – namely the nominations process for Cabinet-level nominees – is now open season for obstructionists in the U.S. Senate. This year has seen the first-ever filibuster of a Secretary of Defense in the Republicans’ obstruction of Chuck Hagel’s nomination earlier this year. Then, in back-to-back days in May, instead of advancing Cabinet nominees Thomas Perez at the Department of Labor and Gina McCarthy at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a “yes or no” vote on the Senate floor, Senate Republicans relied on unprecedented procedural tricks and partisan obstruction to delay both nominations in Senate committees. Former Massachusetts Republican Governor Jane Swift wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed of the Republican obstruction of McCarthy, “While the Senate has a role in advising and vetting candidates, when everyone agrees on the qualifications and quality of the nominee there is a responsibility to move forward.”

        Other executive branch nominee battles include Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Mike Konczal of the Washington Post noted of Republicans Cordray obstruction, “their problem isn’t with Cordray, or with any specific candidate. They just don’t want anybody in the office.” Additionally, Republican obstruction continues to threaten the functionality of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Senate is likely to take up slate of five bipartisan NLRB nominees later this summer – two of the five seats on the NLRB are currently vacant and the term of another member will expire in August. This means that if Republican Senators continue to block the NLRB nominees without recourse, the NLRB will stop functioning by late August and the nation will be without basic labor law protections. As the Los Angeles Times editorialized, “ in requiring the U.S. Senate to confirm presidential appointments, the Constitution aims to ensure a second level of scrutiny of the qualifications of government officials. But Senate Republicans have hijacked the confirmation process, not only to thwart individual nominees but to undermine laws they don't agree with.”

        • Judicial Nominee Obstruction: In the judicial arena, the New York Times reports that President Obama will soon nominate three judges to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit – which the Times called the “second most important court” in the nation. As Huffington Post explains, the “three vacancies are part of a staffing crisis that has plagued the judiciary, as Obama's nominees have been bottled up in the Senate by GOP obstruction.” According to statistics reported on by The Hill newspaper, “Obama’s judicial nominees have waited between three and four times longer for Senate votes than former President George W. Bush’s picks. Of Bush’s 61 circuit nominees, 35 waited fewer than 30 days for a floor vote, while only one of Obama’s 33 circuit judges has waited less than a month.”

        The impending DC Circuit nominations come after Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the court earlier this year. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) noted that the Halligan obstruction “represented the demise of the Gang of 14 agreement that this Senate has operated under for the last few years … Republicans now treat judicial filibuster as the rule, not the exception.” Having just passed the anniversary of the Gang of 14 agreement, it’s worth recalling that the agreement’s standard that “Nominees should be filibustered only under extraordinary circumstances,” clearly no longer applies.

        • Mitch McConnell Tries to Undercut Rationale for Reform: During the same week that Senate Majority Leader Reid threatened to revisit rules reform, the Senate confirmed Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by a 97-0 vote. As Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo noted, “McConnell is actively trying to undermine Reid’s efforts to present Republicans with a Sophie’s choice between dropping their filibuster threats against nominees they oppose and standing by as Democrats do away with the filibuster on presidential nominees altogether.” Despite the recent confirmation of Srinivasan, his nomination nonetheless serves as a reminder of how Senate obstruction has delayed qualified and non-controversial judicial nominees like Srinivasan from filling vacancies – the seat he is now filling in the D.C. Circuit Court has remained vacant since 2005 and his nomination sat in the Senate for 11 months before receiving unanimous approval.  
        • Pro-Reform Intensity Rising Among Senators: In addition to Senator Reid’s comments and those from longtime pro-reform Senators such as Tom Harkin (D-IA), other Senators have been speaking out with a greater volume and intensity about the need for revisiting Senate reform. For example, Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT) said earlier this year after the failure of the Machin-Toomey gun background check amendment, that the vote “has turned me from a proponent [of abolishing the filibuster] into a revolutionary…There’s never been a bigger gap between the American public and a Senate vote.” Other Senators such as Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and William  ‘Mo’ Cowan (D-MA) have similarly been highlighting the need for reform.  Even former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole recently spoke out against the GOP’s unprecedented obstruction, noting of the filibuster, “There are some cases we can probably justify it, but not many.”
        • Renewed Outside Engagement for Senate Reform: The Fix the Senate Now recently unveiled an ad in the Beltway newspaper Roll Call titled “Break the Logjam.” As the ad notes, today “our government agencies and federal courts are unable to serve the public properly because of unprecedented obstruction of Presidential nominees. President Obama won his election and now deserves an up or down vote on his nominees.” The ad calls on the Democratic majority to “make the Senate work again.” Additionally, the Fix the Senate Now coalition and partner organizations announced a petition drive this spring that has resulted in over 1.1 million emails sent to members highlighting unprecedented Senate obstruction and calling for renewed Senate reforms.  The petition drive led to over 140,000 signatures delivered to Senate leadership offices prior to the Memorial Day recess.  During the Memorial Day recess week, Fix the Senate organizations are planning on nearly two dozen office visits to state and local offices of Senators, calling for an end to ceaseless obstruction and for the Senators to support reforms that again ensure a functional U.S. Senate.

        Greg Sargent of the Washington Post captures the dynamics to be on display in the Senate over the weeks ahead: “Republicans will surely play a dangerous game here in which they will try to get away with just as much obstructionism as they possibly can, gambling that Reid ultimately won’t be able to round enough support among Senate Dems (some of whom are reluctant to change the rules by simple majority) to go nuclear. Republicans may be right, and Reid and Dems may not ultimately go through with it. But with tensions now escalating on not one, but two fronts — executive branch and judicial nominations — the possibility of miscalculation, and with it the chance that Dems will have no choice but to change the rules, is likely to grow.”

        While the end outcome is unclear, what is already apparent is that the rules reform compromise agreement from January has failed; that frustration with Senate obstruction among the public and Senators alike is understandably rising; and that this obstruction is exacting a toll on basic functioning of the Senate, executive agencies, and the judiciary in a manner unacceptable to our democratic traditions.


        Visit www.fixthesenatenow.org for more information

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        Fix the Senate Now Coalition Engages in ?Week of Action? to Support Senate Reform

        Washington, DC – On the heels of reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will explore Senate rules reform in July in light of the failure of January’s Senate rules compromise agreement, the Fix the Senate Now coalition and allied partner organizations are engaged in a ‘Week of Action’ to lift up the voices of millions of Americans who are frustrated with continued Senate dysfunction and support renewed efforts at reform.

        As Senate Majority Leader Reid said last week, “Despite the agreement we reached in January, Republican obstruction on nominees continues unabated, no different than it was the last Congress.”

        See below an overview of ‘Week of Action’ activities taking place during the Memorial Day recess, when Senators are in their home states:

        • Coalition-led Petition Drive Supporting Real Reform Delivered to Senate Offices: The Fix the Senate Now coalition and partner organizations announced the results of an ongoing petition drive calling on the Senate to stop obstructing and start working again.

          The petition notes, “We call on you, and all the members of the Senate, to restore fairness and honor to the nomination and confirmation process for executive and judicial nominations, and use the rules of the Senate in a constructive way that fulfills both your constitutional responsibilities and the needs of the American people in these challenging times. Or to reform those rules if a determined minority remains adamant in maintaining a veto over everything that conflicts with their radical philosophy.” 

          The petition drive, involving 17 organizations, was sent to over 1.1 million members of participating organizations, and garnered over 140,000 signatures sent to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and top Democratic leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).  

        • In-State Office Visits: The Fix the Senate Now coalition and related partner organizations will be visiting nearly two dozen Senators’ state offices during the Memorial Day recess week. These visits, taking place across the nation, will provide an opportunity for Americans frustrated with Senate obstruction of important legislation and key nominees to voice their frustration and explain why a functional Senate would make a difference to their own lives.
        • Fix the Senate Now “Break the Logjam” Ad in Roll Call. In light of continued obstruction, Fix the Senate Now recently unveiled a new ad titled, “Break the Logjam,” featured in the Beltway newspaper, Roll Call.  As the ad notes, “our government agencies and federal courts are unable to serve the public properly because of unprecedented obstruction of Presidential nominees. President Obama won his election and now deserves an up or down vote on his nominees.” The ad calls on the Democratic majority to “make the Senate work again.”

        Visit www.fixthesenatenow.org for more information

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        Fix the Senate Now Leaders Call for Reforms to ?Break the Logjam? on Obstructed Nominees

        Eight years ago this month, the Republican Senate Majority under then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TX) was committed to change the Senate rules to get nominations confirmed for President George W. Bush. The eventual Gang of 14 agreement over nominees helped to break the Senate logjam and move qualified nominations forward.

        In light of the unceasing obstruction in this 113th Senate that has blocked numerous qualified executive branch and judicial nominees from advancing and in anticipation of the Gang of 14 agreement’s anniversary later this week, Fix the Senate Now has unveiled a new ad in the Beltway newspaper Roll Call titled “Break the Logjam.” As the ad notes, today “our government agencies and federal courts are unable to serve the public properly because of unprecedented obstruction of Presidential nominees. President Obama won his election and now deserves an up or down vote on his nominees.” The ad calls on the Democratic majority to “make the Senate work again.”

         In addition to the Fix the Senate Now ad, a range of organizations and leaders involved with the Fix the Senate Now coalition are making clear the need for Senate rules reform:

        • Alliance for Justice: Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice, wrote, “With battles ahead over President Obama’s choices for Secretary of Labor, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director and the National Labor Relations Board, and fights over the nation’s second most important court likely to follow, democracy itself is on trial in the United States Senate. If Republicans persist in preventing yes-or-no votes on President Obama’s executive and judicial nominees, the only recourse will be for the majority to revisit Senate rules reform and put an end once and for all to Republican efforts to subvert the Senate’s constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent.”

        Nan Aron of Alliance for Justice

          • Common Cause: Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause’s senior vice president for strategy and programs, stated, “Congress is about to leave Washington for its Memorial Day vacation … But as far as most Americans are concerned, the Senate has been on vacation since January, essentially paralyzed by a group of senators who’ve exploited the rules to block votes on important legislation and nominations that have been pending for months … The current Republican leadership has adopted routine use of the filibuster as an operating principle, making a mockery of the 'Gang of 14' deal and a new 'compromise' in January that was supposed to get the Senate back on track … We call on senators to revisit and change their rules so that legislation can pass and nominees can be confirmed with 51 votes, a simple majority.”
          • The Communications Workers of America (CWA) released a statement noting, “Today, Republicans have since shredded the ‘Gang of 14’ deal and the subsequent gentleman’s agreement that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made at the beginning of this session, and they’ve resorted to obstruction by any means possible … If Senate Republicans continue to block votes on presidential nominees, the Senate’s Democratic majority has the ability to change the Senate rules on nominations. Obama’s nominees deserve an up-or-down vote. We don’t need another handshake agreement. It’s time for real change.”
          • NAACP: Hilary Shelton, NAACP Director of the Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Policy, said in a statement, “The NAACP strongly urges the U.S. Senate to advance reforms that improve the basic functioning of the institution. Despite the Senate rules reform agreement announced in January, the filibuster and other procedural tools continue to enable a small number of Senators to halt progress on critical legislative priorities, block judicial appointees from key federal vacancies, and keep qualified executive branch nominees and agencies unable to fulfill their stated missions … We call on all Senators to recognize that the gridlock cannot continue and to explore reforms that ensure that qualified nominees can fill critical government and judicial vacancies.”
          • Sierra Club: Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, said in a statement, “Whether it was minority leader Mitch McConnell filibustering his own bill or a committee full of Republicans not showing up to work to delay the appointment of Gina McCarthy, there is no shortage of evidence that Senate Republicans will do or say anything to stand in the way of a functioning government. In the meantime, the agencies in charge of protecting our air and water and defending the rights of workers and consumers are left without leaders and the courtrooms where our laws are enforced are left without judges. The cost of these political games is too high for American families and for our democracy. There is no excuse for sidelining highly-qualified nominees like Gina McCarthy and Thomas Perez any longer. It’s time responsible Senators stood up to the gridlock by pursuing reforms to fix the Senate and ensure a functioning government can no longer be held hostage by a handful of reckless ideologues.”

          The topic of Senate rules reform has been back in the spotlight recently due to Senate obstruction and the possibility of Senate Democrats revisiting rules reform.  As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post reported last Friday, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is increasingly focused on the month of July as the time to exercise the so-called ‘nuclear option’ and revisit filibuster reform, and he has privately told top advisers that he’s all but certain to take action if the Senate GOP blocks three upcoming key nominations, a senior Senate Democratic aide familiar with his thinking tells me … Reid is eyeing a change to the rules that would do away with the 60-vote threshold on all judicial and executive branch nominations, the aide says, on the theory that this is a good way to immediately break an important logjam in Washington — without changing the rules when it comes to legislation.”


           For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit www.fixthesenatenow.org

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          Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, May 17, 2013

          Washington, DC – Prompted by continued examples of obstruction to nominees, U.S. Senate rules reform is back in the spotlight.

          In addition to coverage of obstruction and threats to nominations for the National Labor Relations Board, Environmental Protection Agency nominee Gina McCarty and Department of Labor Nominee Thomas E. Perez, a series of news articles focused directly on whether Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) would revisit reopening rules reform.  

          See below for this week’s key developments:

          Key Coverage and Analysis:

          • Manu Raju, Politico: “Reid faces growing pressure to overhaul the Senate’s filibuster rules, something that is bound to increase if Obama’s nominees fail to win the 60 votes necessary to overcome threatened GOP stall tactics. Some sectors of the party were disappointed when a filibuster reform movement produced smaller changes at the start of this year. In private conversations with Democratic senators, Reid has not ruled out changing the rules mid-session — potentially via the 51-vote process known as the “nuclear option” — if the president’s nominees are not confirmed, according to several people familiar with the matter. It’s unclear how the rules would be changed, but there’s a push to prohibit filibusters for all presidential-level nominees or force senators to carry out a so-called talking filibuster, rather than simply threaten one on nominations.”
          • Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times: “The threat of further Republican attempts to thwart the president’s ability to assemble his second-term cabinet has increased the likelihood of a fight over the Senate’s rules, which allow the minority party to insist on a 60-vote threshold for almost every Senate action … Democrats say that Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, in recent days has been trying to gauge whether there is sufficient support among Democrats to force a rule change that would limit the filibuster on presidential nominees. He could conceivably try to enact a rule change with a simple majority — a tactic known as “the nuclear option.” Any revisions to Senate rules usually require 67 votes, a threshold that is impossible to obtain without significant Republican support.”
          • Alexander Bolton, The Hill: “Reid told a group of Democratic donors at an event hosted by venture capitalist John Doerr in San Francisco in late April that he is seriously mulling another attempt at filibuster reform, according to a person briefed on the meeting … Democrats had preferred to make major changes to Senate procedures on the first legislative day of a new Congress, which would have minimized the appearance they were changing the rules in the middle of the game. They argue, however, that nothing prevents them from changing the rules in the middle of the Congress, noting that eliminating or reforming the filibuster for executive and judicial nominees is a narrower action than reforming the filibuster rules for legislation and nominees … Democrats believe that unilateral change of procedure and Frist’s threat of using the nuclear option to advance Bush’s nominees serve as important precedents.”

          Senate Voices

          • Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), in prepared remarks at the Senate HELP committee hearing on nominations to the NLRB: “the Board is the only place workers can go if they have been treated unfairly and denied the basic protections that the law provides … The Board is just as essential for our nation’s employers … Because this agency is absolutely critical to our country, to our economy, and to our middle class, it is deeply disappointing to see what has happened to the Board in recent years.”
          • Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), in an interview with the New York Times on Senate Republican efforts to block the Perez nomination: “That was just delay for delay’s sake.”
          • Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), in a The Hill report: “If Senator Reid is ready to go for it [amend Senate rules], then so am I … I am frustrated about many things, not just NLRB … I was one of the original [lawmakers to say] let’s change, let’s dramatically change the filibuster rules. I am of the [Utah Sen.] Tom Udall state of thought, which is show up or shut up.”
          • Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), as reported in the New York Times: “The showdown is coming …  And the leadership is very engaged in preparing how to deal with this and how to change this so advise and consent does not become an instrument of destruction.”

          Outside Observers and Commentary:

          • Editorial, Washington Post: “Americans elected Barack Obama president, and reelected him. He’s entitled to his Cabinet. It’s possible that Republicans will muster the 41 votes needed in the Senate to block both nominations — despite their strong qualifications and high ethical standards. If they do, Americans will be under no illusions that the GOP has led Washington to new lows of dysfunction.”
          • Editorial, Los Angeles Times: “In requiring the U.S. Senate to confirm presidential appointments, the Constitution aims to ensure a second level of scrutiny of the qualifications of government officials. But Senate Republicans have hijacked the confirmation process, not only to thwart individual nominees but to undermine laws they don't agree with. If they continue in their obstructionism, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should revisit the possibility of doing away with the filibuster for nominations.”
          • Jonathan Bernstein, Washington Post: “As I’ve said before, the only recourse for the majority — and recall that Democrats enjoy a 55-seat duly elected majority in the Senate — is to threaten to change the rules if Republicans continue, and then carry out that threat with majority-imposed reform to end filibusters on executive branch nominations altogether. But that would be a loss for the Senate if it had to happen. It’s not a bad thing at all to give the minority party a larger role in the process, and filibusters are part of that; but if filibusters become routine instead of used only for those things the minority objects to the strongest, then the majority will have little choice. Yes, I know that in the way Washington works, this kind of routine disruption of normal government procedures doesn’t qualify as a Scandal! But it should. And while it’s quite proper for those concerned about good government to be outraged by the IRS story, this one is a much bigger deal, and the facts of it are plain for all to see — in fact, the people responsible are openly bragging about what they’re doing. Now that’s a scandal.
          • Juliet Lapidos, New York Times: Realistically, the only way Mr. Reid can get Mr. Cordray through the Senate is by changing the rules mid-session, and doing away with the 60-vote requirement to end debate on nominations — i.e. through filibuster reform. Mr. Beutler said Mr. Reid may have “alluded” to that possibility … Allusion or empty threat? Given Mr. Reid’s history of repeatedly mentioning filibuster reform and then going for a toothless gentleman’s agreement instead, the latter seems more likely.
          • Juan Williams, The Hill: The attacks on ObamaCare are of a piece with the Republican strategy of using filibusters to delay and block Obama administration nominees, leaving key posts empty. A quarter of the filibusters in Senate history have been used against Obama’s nominees. The press has largely snickered at the abusive behavior on Capitol Hill. Reporters treat it as predictable rough play between polarized parties. But the Republicans have taken the fight way beyond hardball. The GOP is subverting the legitimate, Constitutional function of the government because its dislikes the liberal policies of a president who has been elected twice by the American people.
          • Ian Millhiser, Think Progress: “Without federal labor law, nothing prevents employers from engaging in the most ruthless purges of unions seen in this country since before the New Deal. And all that Senate Republicans need to do to maintain this status quo is to keep filibustering President Obama’s nominees. Recently, several Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) raised the idea of a second round of filibuster reform to ensure that Senate Republicans do not have the power to unilaterally obstruct nominees. If Reid cannot assemble the 51 votes he needs to enact such reforms, then every Democrat who opposes filibuster reform has likely voted to strip workers of their rights.”

          Stat of the Week

          “Nominees at all levels of Washington’s bureaucracy — 117 of them in all, including cabinet secretaries, judges and members of obscure oversight boards — are facing delays. Just last week, the Senate confirmed David Medine, the president’s choice to lead the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The time between his nomination and confirmation was 510 days. Every Republican voted no.”

          -          Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times