Promised Obstruction of Nominees Help Build Support for Senate Rules Reform

Washington, DC – As the U.S. Senate rules reform effort moves closer to the vote expected the week of January 22nd, threats to block the nominations of President Obama’s executive branch nominees are underscoring the need for substantial Senate rules reform.  In combination with escalated campaign efforts from the Fix the Senate Now coalition and the continued advocacy of Senate reform champions like Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), the promised obstruction may have the unintended consequence of making the case for rules reforms like the Merkley/Udall S. Res. 4 proposal. Among this week’s key developments:

  • GOP Threat to Obstruct Nominations Makes Case for Senate Rules Reform: Senator Jeff Sessions and other Senate Republicans have pledged to block Obama’s executive nomination to the U.S. Treasury, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, after similar threats about other potential and named executive branch nominees. In response, a range of opinion leaders has made the argument that this may actually benefit the Senate rules and filibuster reform effort.
  • In the Washington Post, Jonathan Bernstein highlighted that recent obstructionist tactics are only making further the case for filibuster reform, “All this does build the case for Senate reform. As I’ve been saying, there’s just no good reason not to change the rules to have simple majority approval of executive branch nominees.” 
  • In a Slate article by Dave Weigel, Senator Jeff Merkley argued that the threats to filibuster executive branch nominations underscores the need for substantial rules reform: “It really does highlight how the intentional paralysis of the Senate, through the use of a filibuster as a party tool, has gotten out of hand…If we can turn back the clock to the Susan Rice nomination, a lot people said: ‘Oh, that's just maneuvering by Republicans to get John Kerry instead and give Scott Brown a chance to come back here.’ With Jack Lew and Chuck Hagel, it becomes so much more apparent that this wasn't a strategy aimed at one Senate seat.”  Weigel notes, “Sessions’ outrage was manna to an unexpected group of people: Democrats. For months, a group of freshman Democratic senators have been trying to nail down 51 votes to reform the filibuster. On Jan. 22, when the Senate votes on this congressional session’s rulebook, they’ll need to keep that group together. Every time a Republican threatens an Obama nominee, their job gets easier.”
  • Senate Champions and Fix the Senate Now Coalition Escalate Case for Real Senate Reforms:  Earlier this week, Senators Jeff Merkley (OR), Tom Udall (NM) and Tom Harkin (IA) introduced S. Res. 4 as a package of Senate rules reforms. The proposal would help cut down on unprecedented Senate obstruction and return the Senate to its deliberative traditions by establishing a “talking filibuster;” eliminating the filibuster on motions to proceed and motions to establish a conference committee; and streamlining the nominations process by reducing post-cloture time on nominations.  The Fix the Senate Now coalition is working to build public momentum behind S. Res. 4, with the following actions this week in support of real reform:
  • Coalition members nationwide, representing 18 organizations, made thousands of phone calls to their Senators urging them to support the S. Res 4 reform proposal; and
  • The coalition launched a new online petition drive, gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures in support of Senate reform.