Fix the Senate Now

Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, May 10, 2013

Washington, DC – Obstruction in the Senate reached another unprecedented level this week, with Senate Republicans hurling back-to-back procedural delays at Cabinet-level nominees Thomas Perez at the Department of Labor and Gina McCarthy at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Instead of advancing Cabinet nominees for a “yes or no” vote, Senate Republicans relied on unprecedented procedural tricks and partisan obstruction to delay both nominations. This week’s developments make clear that what used to be sacrosanct – namely the nominations process for Cabinet-level nominees like Perez and McCarthy – is now open season for partisan obstruction using obscure Senate rules.

Additionally, the Small Business Majority released a new poll this week showing that small business owners nationwide are tired of gridlock and obstruction in the U.S. Senate and want their lawmakers to advance and provide an “up or down” vote on nominees. According to the poll, “By a 23-point margin, the majority of small business owners (53%) believe the president’s nominations deserve a timely up or down vote from the U.S. Senate.”

If observers needed another reminder about the failure of January’s compromise Senate rules reform agreement and the larger and continued need for substantial reform to the Senate’s outdated rules, this week’s proceedings make a compelling case.

See below for key reactions and commentary from both Senators and outside observers on this week’s developments:

Senate Voices:

  • Senate Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), in a press statement: “Republicans will use any procedural roadblock or stall tactic available to deny the President qualified nominees … This type of blanket, partisan obstruction used to be unheard of. Now it has become an unacceptable pattern.
  • Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), as reported by the Washington Post: “Republican obstructionism and procedural tricks are preventing this body from carrying out its duties, including its obligation to consider important presidential nominations.” 
  • Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), in a committee room, as reported by Politico: “If we bring this nomination to the floor and there’s a request for 60 votes — which we are not going to get — I think it is time for the Democratic leadership to do what the American people want, and that is to have a majority rule in the United States Senate.”
  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), as reported by Politico: “You know why some of us are going to be in favor of reforming the rules of the Senate? It’s because of abuses like this.”
  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), as reported by The Hill: “I really don’t understand their [Senate GOP] view, other than being an obstructionist.”
  • Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), as reported by Politico: “Gina McCarthy is going to become the poster child of their [Senate GOP] obstructionism … Gina McCarthy is a woman who deserves this promotion.”

Coverage and Analysis

  • Ezra Klein, Washington Post: “But that’s the problem with using norms rather than rules. Once they’re broken, they’re broken forever. We’ve broken so many norms in recent years that the Senate of today bears little resemblance to the Senate of 1983, much less the Senate of 1953. But because there was never a formal fight over a rule change, and because the changes came gradually, we didn’t notice. Now it’s too late. The norms that once protected the Senate are largely gone. And we haven’t erected new rules in their place.”
  • Jonathan Bernstein, Washington Post: “That meant that despite solid Democratic majorities and solid support from those Democrats, Obama’s judicial approval statistics are basically the worse of any of the recent presidents … And remember: the losers here aren’t just the president and liberals who want to see his judges on the bench. Ordinary people who just want to get their legal matters taken care of promptly have suffered because of all the vacancies on federal courts. It’s really a disgrace. Especially those picks that were delayed for months, only to wind up getting confirmed by unanimous votes. Especially the foot-dragging on district court nominees. Just a disgrace.”
  • Garrett Epps, The Atlantic: “So far, unfortunately, Obama and the Senate majority leadership have brought Nerf swords to the battle. Given what's at stake, Obama should produce nominees for the other three seats -- now, not later -- and Reid and the Democrats should announce that another Republican filibuster will prompt the so-called "nuclear option" -- a mid-session rules change to do away with filibusters on presidential nominations. It is tempting to say that their timidity means they don't deserve to win. Unfortunately, the real losers -- in NAM v. NLRB as in Noel Canning -- are America's workers, who deserve better.”
  • Ross Baker, political science professor at Rutgers University, in a Bloomberg piece: “The confirmation process is increasingly turning into a hostage situation.”
  • Alliance for Justice: “Just one day after using an arcane procedural maneuver to delay a committee vote on the nomination of Tom Perez to serve as Secretary of Labor, Senate Republicans have used another underhanded ploy to delay a committee vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  …  On one level this behavior is understandable.  To Senate Republicans, one of the only things as bad as a Labor Secretary who will protect working people is an Environmental Protection Agency administrator who will protect the environment.  But the brazen nature of these committee delay tactics is shocking nonetheless.”

Poll of the Week:

“A vast 68% of respondents said that Congress was going a “poor job” at confirming nominees to lead federal agencies in a timely manner so that government can function effectively …  By a 23-point margin, the majority of small business owners (53%) believe the president’s nominations deserve a timely up or down vote from the U.S. Senate … When asked whether they supported Gina McCarthy’s nomination to head the EPA, 58% of respondents said they do based on her bipartisan experience and her experience working with business and industry leaders.”

-          Small Business Majority poll

Senate GOP Makes Case for Senate Rules Reform with Procedural Tricks to Slow Labor, EPA Nominations

Washington, DC – With their back-to-back procedural delays injected into the nominations process for Cabinet-level nominees Thomas Perez at the Department of Labor and Gina McCarthy at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Senate Republicans have taken Senate obstruction to new levels in the past 24 hours, the Fix the Senate Now coalition said today.

Instead of advancing Cabinet nominees for a “yes or no” vote, Senate Republicans have relied on unprecedented procedural tricks and partisan obstruction to delay both nominations. What used to be sacrosanct – the nominations process for Cabinet-level nominees like Perez and McCarthy – is now open season for partisan obstruction using obscure Senate rules.

If observers needed another reminder about the failure of January’s compromise Senate rules reform agreement and the larger and continued need for substantial reform to the Senate’s outdated rules, this week’s proceedings make a compelling case. See below for more on this week’s unprecedented obstruction:

  • Thomas Perez at the Department of Labor: As the Los Angeles Times explains, “The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions was scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to decide whether to recommend the nomination of Thomas E. Perez, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, to the full Senate. But Republicans on the panel refused to allow what is usually a routine waiver of an obscure Senate rule that prohibits committees from meeting after the full Senate has been in session for two hours.” Of note, the obstructionist tactic used to delay Perez’s vote was advanced in secret, demonstrating that Senate rules are not only obscure and outdated, but also lacking in accountability and transparency.
  • Gina McCarthy at the Environmental Protection Agency: Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and other Republicans on the Senate are boycotting the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) hearing vote scheduled for today on the nomination of EPA head Gina McCarthy, thereby denying the committee the necessary quorum to advance the nomination forward.  Despite the nominee’s resume of working under five Republican governors, Senator Vitter and his colleagues have issued a “record-shattering barrage of per-confirmation questions” to McCarthy, according to POLITICO.  Despite the fact that McCarthy has responded with greater than four times the previous record number of answers, Vitter and his colleagues are now using the pretext of a supposed lack of responsiveness as the rationale for their refusal to move the nominations process forward.

 

Gina McCarthy & Thomas Perez

    Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) captured the major takeaway from this week’s proceedings, saying yesterday, “Republican obstructionism and procedural tricks are preventing this body from carrying out its duties, including its obligation to consider important presidential nominations.” 


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

    ###

    ICYMI: On Nominees, New Poll Finds Small Business Owners Want Senate Action, Not Senate Obstruction

    Poll from Small Business Majority Finds Small Business Owners Think Nominations Deserve “Up or Down” Vote; Support for EPA Nominee Gina McCarthy

     

    Washington, DC – The Small Business Majority today released a new poll showing that small business owners nationwide are tired of gridlock and obstruction in the U.S. Senate and want their lawmakers to advance and provide an “up or down” vote on nominees.

    According to the Fix the Senate Now coalition, the poll release arrives at a time of growing frustration over Senate delays and obstruction faced by many of President Obama’s nominations to judicial, federal agency, and even cabinet level vacancies. For example, the nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gina McCarthy, has been slowed by holds and threats of continued obstruction from Senate Republicans despite a track record of bipartisanship and support from many industry leaders.

    Gina McCarthy

    Gina McCarthy

    Source: http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/images/GinaMcCarthy-th.jpg

    Among the key poll findings of small business owners nationwide:

    • An overwhelming 68% of small business owners believe “Congress is doing a poor job at confirming nominees to lead federal government agencies in a timely manner so that government can function efficiently.”  Only a combined 7% of respondents thought Congress was doing an “excellent” or “good” job regarding nominations.
    • By a 53%-30% margin, small business owners believe that the president’s nominations “deserve a timely up or down vote instead of long delays, holds and filibusters.”
    • By a 58-30% margin, small business owners support nominee Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

    Read the polling resultshttp://www.smallbusinessmajority.org/small-business-research/clean-energy/support-for-clean-energy-standards-EPA.php


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

    ###

    Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, May 3, 2013

    Washington, DC – As the American public continues to express frustration with the way the Senate’s rules helped to derail the popular Manchin-Toomey background check amendment, the attention has started to broaden to other areas of unprecedented obstruction in the Senate chamber.  In particular, the issue of stalled nominations is in the news and a number of observers are expressing a renewed goal of substantial Senate reform.

    See below for key developments:

    Member Quotes of the Week

    • Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in an e-mail as reported by Talking Points Memo: It’s now clear the experiment has failed. The Senate remains broken … Senate Republicans continue to force delays — even on bills with overwhelming public support, and even on nominees widely considered well-qualified … Please join me and Democracy for America - and put yourself on record at FixTheFilibuster.com: We can’t wait any longer to make the Senate work … “The Senate is badly broken, and it’s not going to get better by wishful thinking or handshake deals … We can change this — but only if the American people insist on a Senate that works.”

    Coverage/Analysis

    • Editorial, Los Angeles Times: “In effect, the Senate has moved from the rare use of the filibuster to force deep consideration on matters of special significance to its routine employment, creating a de facto supermajority requirement for almost all serious legislation … Senators need to return to their rules and amend them again. If they're unwilling to abolish the filibuster, they must fashion limits that allow Americans to be represented by their Senate, not thwarted by it.”
    • Michael D. Shear, New York Times: “As the White House races this week to plug holes in the cabinet, the lights remain off in essential offices across the administration. The vacancies, attributed to partisan politics and lengthy White House vetting, are slowing policy making in a capital already known for inaction, and embarrassing a president who has had more than five months since his re-election to fill many of the jobs.”
    • Former Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), in an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald: “There are several reasons our government does not respond better to problems the public wishes to see addressed. Some are hard to fix. Providing majority rule in the U.S. Senate is not one of these. And until it is, by an amendment to the Senate's rules, we will see more examples like gun control, where the score is filibuster 1 and democracy 0.
    • Julian Zelizer, Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University, in a CNN opinion piece: “The filibuster has also remained the chronic obstacle for Obama. With the constant threat of the filibuster against almost any piece of legislation, almost every bill requires a 60-vote super majority in the Senate. This makes it hard to build a coalition behind legislation and in most cases allows small factions within a party to subvert presidential proposals. Presidents usually need bipartisan support to get 60 votes, and bipartisanship is almost impossible nowadays.”
    • Jennifer Bendery, Huffington Post: “It's bad enough that there are 82 vacant federal judge slots around the country, a level so high that many observers have deemed it a crisis situation. But perhaps even more startling is the fact that of those 82 vacant slots, 61 of them don't even have a nominee. On its face, the absence of nominees would appear to be a sign that President Barack Obama is slacking. After all, he is responsible for nominating judges, and he did put forward fewer nominees at the end of his first term than his two predecessors. But a closer look at data on judicial nominees, and conversations with people involved in the nomination process, reveals the bigger problem is Republican senators quietly refusing to recommend potential judges in the first place.”
    • Joan McCarter, Daily Kos: “It's no secret that Senate Republicans have one purpose in political life: total obstruction of President Obama's and Senate Democrats' agenda. It's no secret that to do so, they've ground the work of the Senate to a halt with the filibuster, blocking an unprecedented number of bills and nominations, including judicial nominations. The judiciary crisis is no secret, either: nearly 10 percent of federal judicial seats are vacant and 40 percent of those vacancies are in courts that are so overburdened with cases, they've been  designated "judicial emergencies" by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts … Out of the 61 vacancies without a nominee, 25 are in states with two Republican senators and another 14 are in states with one Democrat and one Republican. The Senate is constitutionally charged with providing both advice and consent on nominations. They're refusing to do either.”

    Cartoon of the Week

    Senate rules reform cartoon, Roll Call

     

    -RJ Matson, Roll Call


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

    ###

    Why We Still Need U.S. Senate Rules Reform

    Washington, DC – From pressing legislation to judicial vacancies to executive branch nominations, nearly every major policy issue in Washington is being affected by actual or threatened obstruction in the U.S. Senate

    • The Promise & Failure of Senate Rules Reform: At the start of this 113th Congress, the Senate debated filibuster and rules reform. Reforms backed by the Fix the Senate Now coalition, and similar to those proposed by reform-minded Senators, such as Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), sought to protect the rights and voices of the minority party in the Senate, while curbing the massive obstruction that has brought so much legislative business to a halt.  While the ultimate compromise agreement between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stopped short of the meaningful changes we sought, the Fix the Senate Now coalition hoped we would see at least incremental improvements in the functioning of the Senate.

    Unfortunately, the Senate’s record from the first four months of the 113th Congress demonstrates that obstruction still reigns and that 60 votes are still needed for almost every order of business in the upper chamber. Unless and until more substantial Senate rules reform advances, we will still be empowering obstructionists at the expense of representative government capable of advancing popular legislation. Since Democrats took control of the upper chamber in 2007, the Senates of the 110th, 111th, and 112th Congress witnessed the three highest totals of filibusters ever recorded. Based on early returns from the 113th Congress, things have not improved

    This is not “politics as usual.”  Instead, it is a sustained assault on the basic functionality of the United States Senate:

    • Gun Background Check Amendment & Senate Rules: Because of the threat of a filibuster, the U.S. Senate failed to pass the Manchin-Toomey amendment to expand background checks for certain types of gun sales, blocking the amendment by a 54-46 margin in mid-April. Although the amendment received a majority of the Senate’s support, it was subject to the same 60-vote threshold ordinarily reserved for ending filibusters. Requiring 60 votes to pass an amendment on an issue upon which 9-in-10 Americans agree underscored the need for Senate reform and led to outcry from the public, editorial pages, and policymakers. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy said “This 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.” Beverly Gage, professor of modern American political history at Yale University, wrote in the New York Times: “The voting process on gun control legislation worked, more or less, as it was supposed to work. A majority of senators voted in favor of a measure supported by a majority of the American people. The problem is that this no longer counts for much in the United States Senate…If senators want to thwart the will of a majority of the American voters, they should at least have to work for it.”
    • Part of a Larger Strategy of Obstruction: Despite its public salience, the gun background check was merely the most visible example of the continued Republican strategy to subject every piece of legislation to a 60-vote threshold. This not only presents a legislative hurdle for voting at odds with most of the Senate’s long history, but also transforms the legislation itself – because 60 votes is now the de facto standard for a bill’s passage, the threat of a filibuster informs every stage of a legislative life cycle, from its original drafting to its attempted final passage. And thanks to the missed opportunity of filibuster reform, the costs of obstruction remain minimal for those intent on blocking a bill’s final passage.

    In the judicial arena, Senate Republicans again blocked the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, forcing the nomination’s withdrawal. Currently, four of the eleven seats on the DC Circuit are vacant. As the DC Circuit is the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over environmental regulations, national security issues, and voting rights cases, these vacancies are especially troubling. Overall, President Obama’s nominees for seats on federal courts of appeal “have waited an average of 148 days for their confirmation vote following the committee’s approval, more than four times longer than Mr. Bush’s nominees. For Mr. Obama’s nominees to federal district courts, the average wait time has been 102 days, compared with 35 days for Mr. Bush’s district court choices,” according to a New York Times editorial.

    • Moving Forward on Reform: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has threatened to re-visit rules reform at several points this year, in light of continued obstruction.  Additionally, after the failure of the Manchin-Toomey amendment, President Obama and numerous Senate Democrats railed against the dysfunction of the Senate and expressed regret for not pursuing more substantial rules reform in January.  President Obama said, “A majority of senators voted yes to protecting more of our citizens with smarter background checks. But by this continuing distortion of Senate rules, a minority was able to block it from moving forward. I'm going to speak plainly and honestly about what's happened here, because the American people are trying to figure out, how can something have 90 percent support and yet not happen?” 

    However, other observers have called on Senator Reid to do more than just talk about reforming the rules and actually deliver rules reform. For example, Greg Sargent wrote in the Washington Post: “Empty threats make Dems look weak and do nothing to discourage continued GOP obstructionism. If the status quo is really acceptable enough to Democratic leaders to forestall further action, they shouldn’t bother pretending otherwise. If this is the Senate we’re going to have to live with, Dems should just level with their voters on this point. No more feints and hints without real action.”

    • Renewed Outside Engagement for Senate Reform: To support the push for Senate reform, dozens of organizations involved in the Fix the Senate Now coalition sent over 2.5 million emails to members on the importance of fixing the Senate, leading to 100,000 phone calls and nearly one million petition signatures delivered to Senate offices during December 2012 and January 2013. Polling at the time also showed the public’s overwhelming support for moving past the unprecedented obstruction of recent years and support for specific reform provisions such as the “talking filibuster” and streamlining the nominations process for judicial nominees.

    Now, in light of the unceasing obstruction and the way Senate rules have continued to derail democracy in the 113th Congress, Fix the Senate Now has issued a sign-on letter to Senate leadership signed by over 70 organizations, including 27 organizations new to the Fix the Senate coalitionThe letter reads, “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.”

    Additionally, the Fix the Senate Now coalition has launched a new petition drive to demonstrate to the Senate that the public remains engaged on the topic of Senate reform. Already, over 100,000 people have signed the petition. The petition notes, “The abuse of the filibuster to undermine policies that the minority cannot defeat through the normal legislative process is harming our democratic institutions and must not continue. 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.”


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

    ###

     

    Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, April 22, 2013

    Washington, DC – Senate rules reform received a jolt of energy this past week following the defeat of the bi-partisan Manchin-Toomey background check amendment.  Despite the support of nearly 9-out-of-10 Americans and despite the fact that the amendment won majority support in the Senate with 54 votes, the measure ultimately failed because of the threat of a filibuster that subjected the amendment to the same 60-vote threshold ordinarily reserved for ending filibusters.

    In reaction to the failed vote, President Obama, senators and outside observers weighed in on the issue of rules reform to highlight the fact that the latest round of obstruction is only furthering the disconnect between the Senate and the interests of the American people. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reinforced this notion by publicly mocking the defeat of the popular amendment on his Facebook wall.

    Quotes of the Week 

    • President Obama, Washington Post: “A majority of senators voted yes to protecting more of our citizens with smarter background checks. But by this continuing distortion of Senate rules, a minority was able to block it from moving forward. I'm going to speak plainly and honestly about what's happened here, because the American people are trying to figure out, how can something have 90 percent support and yet not happen?”

    President Obama on gun control vote

        • Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Yale Daily News: “This 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.” 
        • Senator Angus King (I-ME), Press Herald: “Asked whether the votes made him question the filibuster reform negotiated earlier this year, King simply replied, "Yes."
        • Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Bill Press Show: “[Obstruction impactful] On judges, on filling judicial vacancies, on getting to important legislation, like the Manchin-Toomey universal background check bill, and quite possibly on important provisions within the immigration bill. If there’s going to be improvements for refining the immigration bill it’s going to happen in committee. Because on the floor, getting anything done takes 60 [votes], and we are regretting not making changes to the filibuster.”
        • Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Huffington Post: "Everything needs 60 votes today. This is supposed to be a majority body."

        Sen. Feinstein on gun control vote

          Coverage/Analysis:

          • Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas, Washington Post: “The gun vote failed because of the way the Senate is designed. It failed because the Senate wildly overrepresents small, rural states and, on top of that, requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass most pieces of legislation.”
          • James Fallows, The Atlantic: “Since the Democrats regained majority control of the Senate six years ago, the Republicans under Mitch McConnell have applied filibuster threats (under a variety of names) at a frequency not seen before in American history. Filibusters used to be exceptional. Now they are used as blocking tactics for nearly any significant legislation or nomination. The goal of this strategy, which maximizes minority blocking power in a way not foreseen in the Constitution, has been to make the 60-vote requirement seem routine … As part of the "making it routine" strategy, the minority keeps repeating that it takes 60 votes to "pass" a bill -- and this Orwellian language-redefinition comes one step closer to fulfillment each time the press presents 60 votes as the norm for passing a law.”
          • Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo: “Similarly, it remains unclear that Democrats have 51 votes to weaken the filibuster via the nuclear option, which they have the ability to invoke in the middle of the congressional session. The fragile emotions surrounding the issue for liberals make Democratic senators wary of sticking their necks out against it. But behind the scenes some fear that raising the cost of filibustering could come back to haunt them when Republicans retake the majority and seek to, say, gut abortion rights with 51 votes.”
          • Norm Ornstein, New York Daily News: “But the combination of partisan polarization, the misuse and abuse of the filibuster to thwart majority will and the increasing and troubling skew of power in the Senate to small and unrepresentative states compared to earlier eras in American history are now outweighing that influence. New Yorkers have reason to be angry at the Senate’s failure. They have reason to be angrier at how the system is skewing against them.”
          • Beverly Gage, professor of modern American political history at Yale University, New York Times: “The voting process on gun control legislation worked, more or less, as it was supposed to work. A majority of senators voted in favor of a measure supported by a majority of the American people. The problem is that this no longer counts for much in the United States Senate … Getting rid of the true filibuster once served a democratic purpose. It no longer does. If senators want to thwart the will of a majority of the American voters, they should at least have to work for it.”
          • Aaron Belkin, professor of political science at San Francisco State University, New York Times: “Surely there is plenty of shame to go around. But responsibility belongs to the president and to Democratic leaders who lack the wisdom and courage to get rid of the filibuster … But if Democrats want to deliver real reform at some future point, they should get rid of the filibuster now, while they control the Senate. Otherwise, the seas will continue to rise. Dozens of Americans will die from gunshot wounds every day.”
          • Joan McCarter, Daily Kos: “It doesn't have to be that way. If real filibuster reform had happened in January, Mitch McConnell and his merry band of nihilists would have had to stand on the Senate floor and talk for hours about why they were thwarting the will of the people, why they were thumbing their noses right in the faces of still-grieving Newtown families. If real filibuster reform had happened in January, the majority will of the people would have had at least a chance at prevailing in the Senate.”
          • Bob Edgar, President and CEO of Common Cause: “Upwards of 90 percent of Americans support strengthened background checks for gun purchasers … The Senate’s answer today is a cowardly dodge behind an antiquated rule. Senators must not do the gun industry’s bidding by manipulating the rules of the chamber at the expense of the public interest … If there are senators who want to filibuster these amendments, let them come to the floor and explain themselves, and keep explaining until they convince a majority to join them or run out of things to say. Let’s have a real debate and then let’s allow the majority to work its will. That’s how the Senate – how America – is supposed to work.”

          Headline of the Week

          • Democracy Weeps, Filibuster Kills Again

          -          Huffington Post


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

          ###

           

          ICYMI: President Obama and Senators Highlight Rules Reform In Reaction to Failed Gun plan

          Washington, DC – In reaction to yesterday’s failed passage of the Manchin-Toomey Amendment despite garnering a majority of 54 votes, both President Obama and Senators weighed in on the issue of Senate rules reform to highlight the role of procedural manipulation that led to the defeat of the popular provision:

          • President Obama, Washington Post: “A majority of senators voted yes to protecting more of our citizens with smarter background checks. But by this continuing distortion of Senate rules, a minority was able to block it from moving forward. I'm going to speak plainly and honestly about what's happened here, because the American people are trying to figure out, how can something have 90 percent support and yet not happen?”
          • Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Huffington Post: "Everything needs 60 votes today. This is supposed to be a majority body."
          • Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Yale Daily News: “This 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.” 
          • Senator Angus King (D-ME), Press Herald: “Asked whether the votes made him question the filibuster reform negotiated earlier this year, King simply replied, "Yes."
          • Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Bill Press Show: “[Obstruction impactful] On judges, on filling judicial vacancies, on getting to important legislation, like the Manchin-Toomey universal background check bill, and quite possibly on important provisions within the immigration bill. If there’s going to be improvements for refining the immigration bill it’s going to happen in committee. Because on the floor, getting anything done takes 60 [votes], and we are regretting not making changes to the filibuster.”

          Visit www.fixthesenatenow.org for more information

          ###

          Failure of Background Check Amendment Shows Need for Senate Reform

          Washington, DC – Because of the threat of a filibuster, the U.S. Senate today failed to pass the Manchin-Toomey amendment to expand background checks for certain types of gun sales, blocking the amendment by a 54-46 margin. Although the amendment received a majority of the Senate’s support, the amendment was subject to the same 60-vote threshold ordinarily reserved for ending filibusters.

          In reaction, the Fix the Senate Now coalition said that requiring 60 votes to pass an amendment on an issue upon which 9-in-10 Americans agree underscores the need for Senate reform. Today’s proceedings also run counter to the supposed goal of the Senate leaders’ compromise agreement:  to restore accountability and transparency to Senate debate. The following is a statement from Fix the Senate Now:

          “Today’s vote is another unfortunate reminder that the U.S. Senate’s rules remain unworkable and in serious need of reform. That policies supported by 86% of Americans cannot even receive an up-or-down vote speaks to an inherent disconnect between the public’s appetite for action and the capacity of our legislative institutions ability to deliver it.

          “Senators intent on blocking popular policies such as expanded background checks should be forced to hold the floor and keep at least 40 of their colleagues on the floor with them. Instead, Senate rules and procedures made opposing Manchin-Toomey essentially costless and accountability-free.

          “Today’s proceedings are just the latest reminder of the missed opportunity at the start of this 113th Congress to enact more substantial Senate rules reform and to raise the costs of obstruction in the Senate. Meaningful filibuster reform remains essential for the U.S. Senate to function properly.”


          Visit www.fixthesenatenow.org for more information

          ###

          Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, April 12, 2013

          Washington DC – On Thursday, gun legislation to expand background checks cleared its first legislative hurdle, overcoming a filibuster to block debate on the Senate floor. However, before it can reach an up or down vote, the legislation is expected to face another 60-vote threshold to end debate, which many expect to be difficult to achieve despite the broad public support.” Meanwhile, the threat of a filibuster against D.C. Court of Appeals nominee Sri Srinivasan and against the nomination of three to serve full terms at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) spurred attention to Republican obstruction.

          Additionally, another set of comments from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) threatening to re-visit rules reform generated a reminder to the failure of the Senate to move forward on more substantial reform in January and led some observers to call on Senator Reid to follow up his talk of further reform with additional action.  Below are key developments from this week:

          Quotes of the Week

          • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Nevada Public Radio: “All within the sound of my voice — including my Democratic senators and the Republican senators who I serve with — should understand that we as a body have the power on any given day to change the rules with a simple majority … I’m a very patient man … We made changes but the time will tell whether they’re big enough. I’m going to wait and build a case. If the Republicans in the Senate don’t start approving some judges, and don’t start helping get some of these nominations done, then we’re going to have to take more action.”
          • Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), from a speech in Brooklyn last month: “We have to fill the D.C. Circuit. They [Senate Republicans] just rejected on specious grounds a very fine New Yorker named Caitlin Halligan for the 2nd time. And our strategy will be to nominate four more people for each of those vacancies. And if they filibuster all of them, it will give those of us who want to change the rules and not allow 60 votes to dominate the Senate, but will require a talking filibuster to prevail. So, we will fill-up the D.C. Circuit one way or another.
          • Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), planned remarks during hearing of D.C. Court of Appeals Nominee, U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan: The D.C. Circuit is perhaps the most important appellate court in the nation. [...] The cases that come before it require sober consideration and legal acumen, not ideological purity. In my view, when a president submits a qualified candidate, of good character and sound legal mind, absent exceptional circumstances, that candidate is entitled to a vote.
          • Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), as reported by Talking Points Memo: “My view is that the [rules change] agreement has now been broken … And that opens to the door to, as far as I’m concerned, the nuclear option.”

          Cloture motions filed, 112th & 113th Congress

            Coverage & Analysis

            • Editorial, New York Times:The Halligan filibuster got some Democratic senators talking about a bolder strategy, including revisiting filibuster reform and making it harder for senators to torpedo or delay nominations to judicial vacancies in their home states. Another proposal is to have Mr. Obama make simultaneous nominations to fill the four vacancies on the District of Columbia Circuit, which would force Republicans to come up with plausible reasons to oppose each of them. In the face of political paralysis, these ideas are worth embracing.”
            • Greg Sargent, Washington Post: “By my count, this is at least the third time a Dem Senate leader has threatened to revisit rules reform. Yet the obstructionism continues with no action on Reid’s part. Reid needs to stop threatening to revisit the filibuster unless he actually means it. Empty threats accomplish nothing. Indeed, they’re counterproductive. They make Dems look weak. They inflate expectations among Dem base voters — and supporters who worked hard to reelect Obama and Dems to Congress — that we may soon enjoy a functional Senate.”
               
            • David Rothkopf, Foreign Policy: “The path forward to fixing this problem now falls squarely on the shoulders of the Democratic leadership in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid has said filibuster reform is possible. Now is the time for him to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. The word "filibuster" does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. It is a Senate "tradition" that is being abused at the expense of America's most fundamental national interests.”
            • Ian Millhiser, Think Progress: “Nevertheless, there is a lesson in the 2005 fight that made Brown a federal judge that Reid should take to heart: the best chance of convincing enough Senate Republicans to break with their party and stop filibustering Obama’s judicial nominees is for Reid to first convince them that he will pull the trigger on major rules reform unless they stop hindering the confirmation process. And if Senate Republicans try to call Reid’s bluff by filibustering another nominee, Reid must show that he wasn’t bluffing.”
            • Joan McCarter, Daily Kos: “Reid could specifically be keeping his threats limited to nominees in the hopes of bringing together another "gang" and agreement on moving nominations. That's fine, as far as it goes. But it means that no critical legislative priority—including gun safety—is going to move forward in the next two years. It also gives that much more opportunity for Republican hostage-taking, unless actually pulling the trigger on the nuclear option for nominations would lead Republicans to think Reid would be willing to take that step completely. And that is pretty good argument for moving ahead with it now.”

            Stat of the Week

            Mr. Obama’s nominees for seats on federal courts of appeal, the system’s top tier below the Supreme Court, have waited an average of 148 days for their confirmation vote following the committee’s approval, more than four times longer than Mr. Bush’s nominees. For Mr. Obama’s nominees to federal district courts, the average wait time has been 102 days, compared with 35 days for Mr. Bush’s district court choices.”

            -          New York Times


            Contact: Candice Johnson or Kendra Marr, 202-434-1168.

            ###

             

            Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, April 5, 2013

            Washington DC – Senate rules reform continued to generate discussion this week as a range of observers and Members continued to highlight the array of nominations and issues currently obstructed by Senate Republicans, including gun control, judicial nominations, Richard Cordray’s nomination to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and vacancies in the National Labor Relations Board.  

            Following the recent withdrawal of Caitlin Halligan’s nomination to the D.C. Court of Appeals after encountering filibuster threats last month, U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan was nominated to fill the vacancy earlier this week. Srinivasan has already received bipartisan accolades from his colleagues, including notable endorsements from conservative former solicitors general Paul Clement, Ted Olson and Ken Starr.  However, qualifications and bipartisan credentials have not stopped Senate Republicans from past obstruction of nominees.

            Quotes of the Week

            • Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) at a town hall meeting: “One little objection on Monday can waste the entire week, including the weekend. Folks should have to stand up before the American people and their constituents. The silent filibuster is destroying our legislature and the paralysis has infected our nation”
            • Representative Bill Pascrell Jr.  (D-NJ) in The Record: “Republicans in the Senate have spent the last year filibustering Obama’s nominee to head the CFBP, Richard Cordray, an experienced former state attorney general with a long history of protecting individuals against financial abuse. They have pledged to block any nominee unless they are allowed to change its structure and funding mechanism, which ultimately could undermine the bureau’s effectiveness.”
            • White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, as reported by The Hill: "It would be shameful to not allow any one of these measures to come up to a vote … The victims of Newtown -- the 20 kids and the 6 educators who lost their lives -- deserve a vote … And that if you want to vote no, vote no. Don’t block a vote.  That’s not doing service to the memory of these kids."

            Coverage & Analysis

            • Editorial, New York Times: “There is no historical precedent for the number of cabinet-level nominees that Republicans have blocked or delayed in the Obama administration … There have also been several impediments to executive-branch nominees beneath the cabinet level, the most troubling being that of Richard Cordray, whom Mr. Obama has renominated to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau … Mr. Obama’s judicial nominees are also waiting for exceptionally long periods to be confirmed … Republicans clearly have no interest in dropping their favorite pastime, but Democrats could put a stop to this malicious behavior by changing the Senate rules and prohibiting, at long last, all filibusters on nominations.”
            • Jonathan Bernstein, Washington Post: “There’s just no way to know which of these obstructions are real and which are simply excuses for obstruction-for-the-sake-of-obstruction, and so the majority has to shut them all down by cloture whenever possible. In other words, endless filibusters and other obstruction aren’t just bad for the government, but they’re bad for the Senate … The bottom line: Democrats would be fully justified in moving to majority-imposed rules reform on executive-branch nominations. The best solution would be simple majority cloture — preserving the right of individual senators to slow things down a bit, but making it easy for the majority to act when it wants. But one way or another, it has to end.”
            • Steve Benen, MSNBC: “The National Labor Relations Board is part of the executive branch, but it can't function because a minority of the Senate won't let it, and some have suggested shutting it down altogether since the GOP will never budge or change its mind. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services is also part of the executive branch, and if judging by budget size, it happens to be the federal government's largest agency. But it doesn't have -- and probably won't get --a confirmed director because the Senate minority doesn't want it to … It's no way to run a government.”
            • Ian Millhiser, Think Progress: “It should also be noted that the fate of the birth control rules would likely be much brighter in the Tenth Circuit if the White House was swifter at nominating judges and if the Senate had pushed through real filibuster reform that would have prevented Senate Republican obstruction of the President’s nominees. Two seats on the Tenth Circuit are vacant, and President Obama has yet to nominate anyone to fill these seats.”
            • Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo: “The rules tweaks Democrats and Republicans agreed to at the beginning of this Congress have been comically ineffective. It only took a few weeks for Democrats to start whispering about reviving filibuster reform. But talk is cheap. It’s clear that Democrats won’t go there unless they feel they have to … My hunch is that the forcing issue for Democrats will have to be something sui generis, which is why I still think the GOP’s threat to filibuster Richard Cordray’s nomination to direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — and not their handling of Circuit Court nominees — is the thing to watch.”
            • Bob Edgar, President and CEO of Common Cause on filibuster threats towards gun control legislation: “But as long as the rule and its 60-vote threshold to begin debate remains in place, it's easy to see why Reid (and majority leaders in both parties who preceded him) generally accepts silent filibusters. They think it doesn't make much sense to spend days talking about whether you're going to debate a bill when you know in advance you won't have to votes needed to do so … My personal bet is that the longer they talk, the more Americans are going to grasp the inherent unfairness of the 60-vote rule and the way it allows a minority to obstruct majority rule. And when that happens, some senators may just begin to reassess their positions … C'mon Sen. Reid. Lock and load. Let's disarm the filibusterers and honor majority rule.”

             Stat of the Week

             “Still, the judicial arena may offer the starkest illustration of obstructionism: The average wait for confirmation of circuit and district court nominees in Obama’s first term stretched to 227 days, from 176 days in Bush’s first term and 98 days in President Bill Clinton’s first term, according to an analysis by Russell Wheeler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

             “During Obama’s first term, the number of appeals court vacancies rose to 17 from 14 when he took office in January, 2009, according to Wheeler’s analysis. During Bush’s first term, appeals court vacancies declined to 18 on his second inauguration from 27 when he was first sworn into office.”

            Mike Dorning, Bloomberg