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.”