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.”