Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News
They pushed too far.
This week the U.S. Senate changed its rules. After almost 40 years, the majority now rules.
This was a change I’d hoped for. We’re told that elections have consequences, and sometimes they do, but in the Senate the need for a supermajority of 60 votes gave all power to the minority (Sen. Ted Cruz & Co.).
To put this in context: In the history of the United States, 168 presidential nominations or appointments have been blocked by filibuster in the Senate. Eighty-two of them were directed at a single president.
Can you guess which president that might be?
Drastic obstruction calls for drastic action.
Senate Republicans’ filibuster threats have been nothing but efforts to throw one monkey wrench after another into the workings of a government they don’t control, after which they line up in front of microphones to bellyache about the failings of government.
They’re car bombers who whine when the car doesn’t run.
They make outrageous demands, and when their demands aren’t met, they blame the other side for its unwillingness to compromise. Really? You’re the minority — that means you generally don’t get your way. (Watch the Democrats in the Alaska Legislature, Mitch, if you want to see how it works.)
Frankly, I didn’t think Sen. Harry Reid, an old school pol who for years as majority leader did everything he could to avoid pulling the trigger, had it in him. When it finally happened, some commentators congratulated Reid for arriving at puberty, or words to that effect.
But resist as he did, Reid ultimately didn’t have a choice. The Republican minority was determined to use the filibuster not just to stop disagreeable legislation but to actually eliminate the president’s constitutional power to appoint judges and fill vacant positions in his administration. They refused to allow up or down votes.
As a political strategy, it was smart, at least in the short run. I mean, what were the Democrats going to do?
Nothing. Like always.
The Republican minority senators are trying desperately to keep the government from functioning for purely ideological reasons. Take, for example, the enforcement of labor law. Republicans sought to punish labor unions by preventing the quorum the National Labor Relations Board needed to settle disputes. They refused to allow a vote on the nominees.
We almost had the “nuclear option” — or what I like to call “majority rule” — last summer when Republican senators blocked those nominations. In the end, they reluctantly allowed a vote, and Harry put away the bomb.
But more recently, when three nominations to the United States Court of Appeals in Washington were blocked from a confirmation vote, the camel’s back finally gave way.
A “sad day for America” and a “power grab,” according to Republican talking points. Even Sen. Lisa Murkowski, joined the chorus, managing to hit some high notes — as if Ted Cruz were her voice coach:
“Senate Democrats … party line votes … push their agenda … power grab. … We’ve seen this movie before … health care law …only three Democrats refused … blah … blah … blah …action on the floor … stunning contrast to that collaborative effort … yadda … yadda … vote saddens me … yadda … George Washington … ‘saucer … tea.’ … Democrats … saucer … pieces. I’m afraid … less-tempered body.”
A less-tempered body? Is she kidding?
I’m worried about her. She’s either just getting up from a 6-year nap or suffers from the clinically severe denial that seems to run rampart among some of her GOP colleagues.
Or maybe she just changed her mind.
In 2005, when George Bush was president, she wrote in the Juneau Empire: “Let me make it clear that I support an up-or-down vote on all nominations brought to the Senate floor, regardless of the president nominating them or which party controls the Senate. These nominees deserve to be considered based on their merits.”
In 2013, not so much.
The Republicans have only themselves to blame. They’ve done everything they can think of to undercut a president chosen by a majority of Americans, to inflict maximum damage on the institutions of our government, even at the risk of blowing up the entire world economy, and they aren’t done yet.
I guarantee they are working overtime, right this minute, to figure out new ways to jam a baseball bat into the wheels of government. And they could care less if that hurts you or your neighbor.
In the meantime, maybe some of the 82 vacant federal judgeships can be filled by the president who has that responsibility, with the approval of a majority of senators.
It’s a thing I like to call “democracy.”
P.S. Which president has had the most filibustered nominations by a factor of many? That would be Barack Obama.
Shannyn Moore is a radio host on 1480 AM in Washington, D.C., and Netroots Radio.