Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 6, 2016

6 Questions to Ponder About the Senate’s Nuclear Winter

Thirty years ago this week, more than 100 million Americans tuned in for the first airing of “The Day After” on ABC — the audience eager, during the final years of the Cold War, for a blockbuster vision of what the heartland might look like if both Washington and Moscow exercised their nuclear options.

On the day after the biggest change to the congressional rules in four decades — sharply curtailing the power of the filibuster, an essential element of life in the Senate — the public may be clamoring for some insight into what just happened.

These six questions and answers may help.

1. Why is it called the “nuclear option”?

The allusion to an atomic blast is as much about how the Senate rules were changed as about the way in which the rules were changed.

The breadth of the impact on the legislative process, and on the balance of power at the Capitol, is undeniably significant, although its extent cannot be precisely measured just now. The number of political players who have seen their power hobbled by the move is also extensive, but can’t yet be quantified.

In those ways, the situation is analogous to the detonating of a nuclear bomb: Plenty of the damage is plain to see, but the breadth of the fallout takes a long time to measure. For now, it’s only clear that the minority’s right to filibuster most judicial and all executive branch nominees has effectively been destroyed, and that means the Republicans are the only victims. But there is nothing to prevent efforts to end the legislative filibuster from bubbling up soon enough. And it’s a dead certainty that whenever the Republicans win control of the Senate, whether next fall or in an election years later, they will turn the tables on the newly-entrenched-in-the-minority Democrats with a vengeance.

The way in which Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., deployed his power play on Thursday also had some similarities to the start of a nuclear war. Like many missile attacks, his series of choreographed parliamentary moves and roll call votes had been threatened for a long time, was stealthy in the planning, undisguised in the execution and swift to reach completion. And it was impossible to contain the damage once the launch sequence was begun.2. How did it come to this?

The change is the most fundamental alteration to the way the Senate functions since 1975, when the supermajority required to break a filibuster, known more formally as invoking cloture, was reduced to 60 from 67.

For the next three decades, meeting that three-fifths-of-all-senators threshold was relatively rarely required for overcoming either ideological objections, or dilatory protests, in order to advance legislation or nominees. But the situation devolved quickly in 2005, when a Republican majority sought to confirm a series of President George W. Bush’s judicial picks and were thwarted by a unified Democratic bloc, which labeled the nominees too conservative for confirmation. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., came within as a day of trying a maneuver similar to what Reid executed Thursday, but pulled back after seven senators from each party – the “gang of 14″ — announced they would begin opposing filibusters of judicial nominees except in “extraordinary circumstances,” a phrase left undefined.

That eased tensions a bit through the end of the Bush years. But, soon after President Barack Obama took office with fellow Democrats running the Senate, the filibustering of nominees spiked to unprecedented levels. The official numbers from the Senate confirm a principal talking point of Reid’s – that half of all the filibusters to thwart confirmations in the history of the Senate have come during this administration.

3. Why did this happen when it did ?

After a couple of bipartisan compromises on the margins of the debate failed to do much to change the situation, Reid came under increasing pressure this year from the junior members of his own ranks, who have now come to dominate the Democratic caucus. Thirty-three of its 55 members have arrived since 2007, meaning they have been in the majority their entire Senate careers and have never needed or experienced the benefits of the main Senate rule created to preserve power for the minority party.

Only in the past week, though, did Reid become confident he had sufficient votes to prevail in the parliamentary showdown; the tipping point seemed to come when veteran California Democrat Dianne Feinstein announced she was reversing her position and would support the nuclear option.

Beyond that, Reid looks to have concluded he had very little to lose in the short-term, and some not-unimportant benefits to gain. Essentially nothing substantive that his caucus or the president might propose looked to stand a chance of getting past a Senate GOP wall of resistance before the midterm elections anyway, so from his point of view, the post-nuclear-option outrage from the Republicans could not translate into any more obstructionism than was already taking place.

And, while the legislative system may remain totally locked up for as long as three years, Reid and the Democrats have gained virtually unfettered power for at least one more year to deliver to the president the people he wants to manage the executive branch and advance his regulatory priorities – a power made all the more important at a time when few new laws are being written

At least as importantly, the change means that, at least until the midterms, Obama will be able to fill as many circuit court of appeals and district court vacancies as exist with lifetime appointments, an opportunity to assure his vision for interpreting the law long outlasts his time in the White House.

Democrats had become confident that Republicans were preparing to “go nuclear” at their first opportunity, and it’s probably an even-money bet that could be in January 2015. So they concluded they were willing to take the blame for an institutional explosion that was inevitable anyway, because at least they would be able to reap the benefits for a year

In the interim, Reid is hoping the public takes little interest in the insiders’ complaints about “breaking the rules in order to change the rules,” as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., fairly described the move, and more about the chance of restoring some semblance of functionality to the place: “It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.”

4. How angry are the Republicans?

They certainly sound hopping mad — especially because they view Reid as having patently broken a promise, reiterated as recently as July, not to do what he just did. In these dysfunctional times, the reliability of a Senate leader’s word had been one of the few filaments of trust that kept the place operating at all.

To vent their disapproval, Republicans mounted a filibuster that prevented the Senate from finishing deliberations on the annual defense authorization bill this week — although a lopsided GOP majority wants the measure enacted, just as it has been 52 years running. The two-week recess bracketing Thanksgiving will in theory give the GOP time to get beyond its feelings of betrayal. If the Senate returns with even the normally collaborate Republicans intent on tying the place in as many parliamentary knots as possible — and plenty of dilatory maneuvers remain available even without as many filibuster openings — that will mean the cooling off period didn’t work.

Nonetheless, such public fury from the Republicans in the short term might be masking a little bit of relief that the Democrats have done some of the long-term dirty work for them.

There’s little reason to doubt that McConnell was ready to curb the power of the filibuster were he to become majority leader – especially if a Republican wins the presidency in 2016 and the GOP holds the House, giving the party control of all the policymaking levers for the first time in a decade. Reid’s move means McConnell won’t have to press the initial detonation button, and probably wouldn’t take all that much criticism if he moves to eliminate the legislative filibuster as well in order to advance his party’s agenda.

5. Why didn’t Democrats eliminate filibusters on legislation?

There is nothing, procedurally, to prevent them from doing so. As Thursday’s developments show, changes in the Senate rules, which are supposed to be fully debatable and subject to a two-thirds-majority vote, can effectively be changed by a simple majority.

But there does not appear to be any move afoot by the Democrats to take the next logical step by ending the filibuster altogether. The main reason is that they would reap no benefit from dropping that second nuclear bomb. Because nominations aren’t handled by the House, the new rules give the Democrats uncheckable ability to give their president what he asks for. Not so with legislation, which of course has to be passed in identical form by both the House and Senate to become law. Democrats have nothing to gain by streamlining the system so their bills can get more quickly across the Capitol, because the current House GOP majority would still be likely to shelve the measures in opposition to the policy changes being proposed.

But, to drive the point home, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has declared that he House would not touch a bill, no matter its merits, if it had been passed by the Senate without having to run the current cloture-first gantlet.

6. Why the exception for Supreme Court nominees?

Democrats were willing to accept that someday a Republican Senate will be able to quickly fill lower-court vacancies with the super-conservative nominees from a GOP president. But they were unable to acquiesce in that same scenario for the highest court in the country — especially at a time when its ideological balance is on a knife’s edge, and when advocates for abortion rights and other liberal causes were expressing wariness of the risk.

The tradeoff is that, by preserving the filibuster as a tool to stop Supreme Court nominees, Reid has made it potentially significantly difficult for Obama to install a new justice for the rest of his presidency. Especially if an opening unexpectedly occurs soon, while the pain of nuclear winter is still palpable, Republicans would be very tempted to unite against anyone Obama might choose — even if that meant leaving one of the court’s nine seats empty for a time.

Of the two liberal anchors of the court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be 83 at the time of the next presidential election, and Stephen G. Breyer 78. Both Anthony M. Kennedy, the only genuine swing vote, and Antonin Scalia, the leader of the conservative bloc, will turn 80 in 2016.

  • Layla

    Now we know why tyranny looks like. The voters have a remedy for that which we intend to exercise in less than a year from now.

    Your first mistake was in thinking this is all about you.

    • xian

      tyranny? get a grip.

      • Bob McGrail

        Perhaps you have heard of John Adams or Alexis de Tocqueville, who both used the term “Tyranny of the Majority.”

        • xian

          yeah. they were totally talking about the filibuster.

          • Bob McGrail

            They certainly talked about requiring supermajorities for various changes and that is exactly what a successful filibuster does. BTW, they didn’t mention electronic voting machines either. Does that render all of their concerns moot for modern elections?

          • xian

            the constitution specifically calls out cases where a supermajority is required (treaties, overcoming a veto, I think impeachment) and says nothing about a supermajority associated with the advise and consent role of the Senate, let alone “cloture.”

          • Bob McGrail

            No one in this thread has said that the rules change was unconstitutional. In fact, Layla is suggesting a political, rather than legal, solution. The fact that this move is constitutionally sound does not settle the debate about the danger of moving closer to pure democracy. This debate has been active since the Greek Academy. One is not a kook just for engaging this way.

          • xian

            in this specific thread?

            btw, deciding presidential appointees by majority vote in the upper House with its mandate to advise and consent is still a form of representative and not direct democracy.

            Perhaps Layla’s menacing tone led me to believe she was talking more than the ballot, especially when she believes 91 million Americans are being stripped of their health insurance because IDEOLOGY.

            btw, I’ve reviewed the thread and it was someone called “ews” who labeled Layla a kook, not me. She does seem sort of kooky to me, though, so I didn’t realize you were talking to the wrong person right away.

          • Bob McGrail

            Yes, but movement to simply majority over some sort of supermajority is a step closer to pure democracy.

            The “kook” blame was my mistake, but I did nail you, as your comment on another thread made clear.

            I believe her “menacing tone” is 90% your misjudgment and subsequent straw man arguments. Political responses to political moves (“throw the bums out for the rule change”) is a perfectly civil and reasonable method. Also, questioning the danger of any movement closer to simple majority is also perfectly reasonable.

          • disqus_MHw7a2dXsU

            they were totally talking about the filibuster

            Wrong. The entire purpose of the filibuster was to give voice to minorities, which prevented a simple majority from enacting extreme, unconstitutional, and unreasonable legislation, the way democrats consistently do. But being a good little democrat, you keep to historical trends and want to put a boot on the neck of minorities. Congratulations.

          • xian

            the filibuster has been primarily a tool of reaction for its history, with its key usages being defense of slavery and opposition to civil rights.

            if it worked at all, it worked when it was a talking filibuster and when the gentlemen’s agreements about how to use it were upheld.

            i’m sure you were similarly outraged and hystrionic when Boehner quietly (not openly) changed a House rule to strip the minority of its ability to prevent the government shutdown:


          • disqus_MHw7a2dXsU

            First and foremost, there was no government shutdown. For a short time, less than 20% of government functions were shutdown, but all those people were still paid, meaning that taxpayers were made to provide a paid vacation, over and above contracted benefits, for government functionaries whose jobs shouldn’t exist to begin with. If your job can be arbitrarily gotten rid of and no one notices, taxpayers certainly shouldn’t be made to continue to employ you.

            Secondly, the filibuster works as I described it: it prevents a simple majority from opressing the minority by providing a minority voice and a mechanism for the minority to stop bad legislation. Hope you enjoy the pyrrhic victory, when the GOP shoves its legislation down your throat after 2014, and even more so after the likely WH switch back to the GOP.

          • xian

            Democrats function as loyal opposition sometimes enabling the majority too much, as they did with Reagan and Bush II.

            I’m sure President Cruz will be terrible but my objections won’t be that he was able to make appointments.

          • disqus_MHw7a2dXsU

            “loyal opposition”

            Ha! Do you think I have amnesia? I remember the dispicable ways democrats treated Reagan, even as a young boy, as well as the mean spirite reactions to the revelations of him having Alzheimer’s. I remember the way the media went after all the small things about Bush Sr and Dan Quayle. And since 2001-2009 wasn’t that long ago, it’s very easy to recall all the dishonest and cruel things people like said about Bush, going so far as to say he lied about Iraq, despite people like Hilary and her husband saying the same things Bush said after seeing the same intelligence reports. “Loyal”. You make me sick with your fakeness.

            It’s clowns like you that poisoned the political conversation in this country. You’re the type of person who would put the “Choose Civility” sticker then say mean things about Sarah Palin’s child with down syndrome. You’re the type of person would refer to someone as a “tea bagger”, then say something like “stuffed throats rears its ugly head again”. You’re the one who stood in outrage at the suggestion of the removal of the filibuster in 2005, but now support it.

            You’re a lying scum bag, who has sown the seeds of distrust and dishonestly, so often and so widely, you probably have even convinced yourself that you’re a good person and that Obama didn’t lie about Obamacare or that the media didn’t cover for him on this, as well as on the IRS and Benghazi in order to ensure reelection in 2012.

            You and your kind are quite simply black hearted. Your very existence provides the best reason ever why governments, all of them, should be incredibly limited, and what little power politicians are left with should be viewed with extreme suspicion and never trusted.

          • xian

            adjust your meds, charlie. you’re foaming at the mouth and have lost all sense of proportion. worse yet, you’re railing at shadows. you don’t know me, and as much as you may enjoy demonizing the “other,” you unhinged rant bears little relation to reality and none at all to me.

            p.s.: if you were not an anonymous coward and called me a lying scumbag to my face you’d be swallowing your teeth.

      • Layla

        No YOU get a grip. These people serve at THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE, and not corporate America or other masters. 91 MILLION Americans are jobless and soon will be without health insurance because of somebody’s IDEOLOGY.

        It ends next Nov., PAL, where YOU LIKE IT OR NOT.

        • xian

          what’s happening in November that’s going to end unemployment?

      • tps

        @Xian. Tyranny my friend doesn’t usually show up with tanks and jack boots sporting a flapping flag with a capital “T” emblazoned upon it so everyone can then say, “Ah, Tyranny is here!”

        And, it almost never arrives overnight.

        The Founders and the Framers (not all the same), used the word “tyranny” to discuss exactly what the Obama administration has been doing (ignoring the separation of powers and ignoring court orders being but two examples), and what the Senate just did.

        As a student of history and well published author, I can assure you we are witnessing a slide toward tyranny–quickly. I have no doubt you will disagree. But I am writing for others for whom history, coupled with empirical facts and logic, matter.

        • xian

          that’s just silly. Please describe a single unprecedented thing the Obama administration has done.

          And please give at least one example of the Obama administration ignoring separation of powers.

          Also, I’d like to read one of your books.

          • tps

            Sure. I will mix the answers since they overlap.

            (I am also an attorney, so follow these cases closely.)

            Here is one good example: At last two federal courts (one was the Third Circuit court of appeals and the other is the DC Circuit Court of Appeals) ruled that his unilateral declaration of a Senate recess, and then his use of recess appointments to add people to the NRLB and if I recall, other boards, as unconstitutional.

            “[T]he President made his three appointments to the Board on January 4, 2012, after Congress began a new session on January 3 and while that new session continued,” the court wrote in its decision. “Considering the text, history, and structure of the Constitution, these appointments were invalid from their inception.”

            Obama ignored the court decisions and left the people in place, where they are now issuing bureaucratic regulations in an unconstitutional fashion.

            No other administration has ever to my knowledge decided how and when the Senate is “in recess.”

            Executive execution of the law is to see that a law duly passed is implemented. The Executive branch has no author to substantively alter a law, whenever it deems it necessary. It can only ignore a law if the Chief Executive deems it unconstitutional. If a president can unilaterally change a law, there is no need for Congress, there is no certainty in execution or implementation, and you no longer have three branches of government. I am imagining President Romney could not have unilaterally waived, say, the payment of capital gains on his own–right?

            Obama has routinely declared that if Congress won’t act, he will act unilaterally. I don’t recall other presidents ever issuing such a threat.

            As for books–if you read in the American Civil War field, you would have read me. Likely.

            Running out to catch the waves. Have a pleasant day,.

          • xian

            as I am not a lawyer I will quote the satanic wikipedia to support my contention that recess appointments have been controversial and contentious for some time, and that the interpretation of the law is evolving and currently under appeal (and I do find it amusing that you cite your credentials and then fall back on the extremely weak “to my knowledge”):

            Historically, presidents tended to make recess appointments when the Senate was adjourned for lengthy periods. Since World War II,
            presidents have sometimes made recess appointments when Senate
            opposition appeared strong, hoping that the appointee might prove
            himself or herself in office and allow opposition to dissipate. Most
            recently, however, as partisanship on Capitol Hill has grown,[4] recess appointments have tended to solidify opposition to the appointee.[5]

            There is currently a split among the circuits of the United States Courts of Appeals
            on the validity of intrasession appointments and on what vacancies can
            be filled using the Recess Appointment authority. Following the 2003
            intrasession appointment of William H. Pryor, Jr. to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit,
            a small number of criminal defendants whose appeals were denied by
            panels including Pryor appealed on the basis that Pryor’s appointment
            was invalid. The Eleventh Circuit, in an en banc decision in Evans v. Stephens[6][7]
            held that the Constitution permitted both intrasession recess
            appointments and recess appointments to fill vacancies that “happened”
            prior to, rather than during, the congressional recess.

          • xian

            as for taking executive action, I hardly think Obama is unique in this. the administration has always had rulemaking power and discretion in impementation of law and the remedy for an abuse of this is to challenge action or inaction in the courts.

            My father was a civil war buff and may have been familiar with your work, but since you don’t sign a real name, I won’t be able to find your work.

        • xian

          “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”(Sinclar Lewis)

          • Rich Vail

            xian, you have to remember that the National Socialist Workers Party in Germany was ELECTED to a majority of the seats to the Reichstag…and thus, Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor or Germany. Then, the Reichstag, voted on a simple majority vote to allow him to rule by fiat…

    • EWS

      That’s why we will still have a democratic senate. Because kooks like you use that kind of language. It’s also why Dems had to resort to this in the first place given republicans have to bend to the will of kooks like you and never compromise

      • Bob McGrail

        That is one theory. Another is that low information sorts who have never heard the term “Tyranny of the Majority” tend to vote Democrat.

        • xian

          yes, because a president appointing his preferred agency heads is just like a murderous dictator.

          have some more derp.

          • Bob McGrail

            Layla only mentioned tyranny, not its particular manifestation as a murderous dictatorship. George III was not a murderous dictator, but his government’s policies toward the colonies were tyrannical.

          • xian

            was it tyrannical when Boehner changed to House rules in advance of shutting down the government to prevent the Democratic minority in the House from using an existing rule to thwart the shutdown plan?

          • Bob McGrail

            Perhaps so. We can have an informed and civil discussion about it. I promise not to call you a kook just for raising the possibility. First, do me a favor and acknowledge that your use of the word “kook” to describe Layla was a bit hasty. That way I can have some assurance that you are reasonably genuine in your argument and not just rifling off the latest of a long series of unrelated talking points. There are other things I have to do.

          • xian

            Perhaps it was hasty but I doubt it. There are hallmarks of online kooks and writing words WORDS in all capitals is a pretty good tell. Also her position is unhinged almost to the foaming-in-the-mouth level.

            I’m tired of perfectly ordinary actions by this president being framed as tyrannical and communistic etc. and have little patience for people with such an ahistorical and either duped or severely bigoted outlet.

            I work from my memory and my learning and not from “talking points” — nobody is telling me what to write.

            Don’t feel obliged to engage with me. It sounds like you have important things to do and you should keep your priorities straight.

            By the way, have you looked at Layla’s Disqus posting history?

          • Bob McGrail

            When I debate I try not to make it personal. Ad hominem arguments do not interest me.

            If I did I would have pointed out that most of your comments before I joined this discussion were myopic Bill-Maher-style weak rejoinders that usually only impress the feeble minded. Instead I chose to engage you as someone who could reach higher.

          • Bob McGrail

            However, if defending the president is your real goal, rather than having an honest debate, there are plenty of discussions in which your help is sorely needed. Those involve the issue of his competence which, quite frankly, trump any questions about his ideology. Put your energies into arguing that he is competent. Good luck, you are going to need a heap of it.

          • xian

            The president does not need my defending. I am sharing, on public internet fora, my political beliefs, something I think I have the right to do as an American.

            As a liberal Democrat, I’m actually very happy with the (at times extremely painful and incremental) progress we’ve made under Obama, but I don’t plan to argue his competence to anyone who has already wrapped themselves in a worldview that excludes that possibility.

          • Bob McGrail

            “I don’t plan to argue his competence to anyone who has already wrapped themselves in a worldview that excludes that possibility.”

            Actually you would be making that argument to many people who were convinced of his competence prior to October 1st of this year, including many liberal Democrats that generally share your “World View.” This audience actually includes leaders of his own party. Nice try, though.

          • xian

            he’s definitely the worst webmaster-in-chief we’ve ever had!

            watching the enrollment progress, I have little doubt you’ll be singing a different tune in six months, or actually the same tune but with some new words.

          • Bob McGrail

            No, I will sing the same tune that I have sung all along: He is a poor leader and manager who is way out of his depth. Few listened in 2008 or 2012. Many listened in 2010. All I need is the raw, obvious incompetence and lies of the last two months to get many more open minds on this possibility than ever before. Your wishful thinking is admirable, however.

          • Bob McGrail

            Clint Eastwood’s empty chair is now a 404 error. This updates his point for the younger generations.

          • xian

            thanks for reminding me of the hilarious GOP convention, which I personally believe played a critical role in Romney’s defeat.

          • Bob McGrail

            It was my pleasure. I hope that you live long enough to see how this all plays out.

            You have a lot of personal beliefs, some of them obvious bunk.

          • xian


          • xian

            it must be sad to be defeated so routinely by such a loser

            may you enjoy your last hurrah in 2014

          • Bob McGrail

            Yes, well, I am sure you remember 2000 and 2004.

          • xian

            more to the point, I remember 9/11, Iraq, Katrina, budget-busting tax cuts, a new unfunded entitled (Medicare Part D), and so much more

          • Bob McGrail

            What about 9/11?

          • xian

            the worst terrorist attack ever on US soil, and a devastating disaster in my home city, one whose warning signs were ignored

            but i’m sure you’ve got some sophistry lined about how it was Clinton’s fault or how Bush “kept us safe” thereafter by attacking the wrong country in response, etc.

          • Bob McGrail

            Wow. You are sure of a lot of things. That’s the problem.

            I never bought the “warning signs” argument, which seemed like an exercise in afterthought/data mining to me, so why would I deflect that to Clinton. Besides, I voted for Clinton, and Gore. You should stick to what you know.

          • Bob McGrail

            Is this how you usually argue?

          • Rich Vail

            there have been more terrorist attacks (or should I say “work place violence) in the US since Obama was elected than in all of the preceding presidents terms combined.

          • xian

            you mean like that Alex Jones fan who shot up LAX?

          • Bob McGrail

            What does Alex Jones have to do with the rest of us? He is just an equal-opportunity conspiracy theorist.

            Are you going to blame us for the Westboro Baptist Church next?

          • xian

            what made you think I was addressing you? I was talking to someone who seems to think terrorists have successfully harmed us more under Obama than under Bush.

          • Bob McGrail

            Xian is clearly a troll. His only goal here is to stop debate by what ever means he has. Sometimes it is ad hominem and others it is objecting to ad hominem. Sometimes it is the straw man and other times whining about such. Let him earn his keep somewhere else. I am done feeding this guy.

          • xian


          • Bob McGrail

            Don’t forget the “video attack” on 9/11/12.

          • Bob McGrail

            I voted for Clinton twice and Gore. I liked Clinton, who is 100 times the person this man child is. I preferred Gore but kept an open mind about Bush post election. I preferred Clinton over Obama by a long shot and McCain over Obama by a nose.

            Given the number of briefings that presidents receive I find it hard to believe that Clinton or Bush would have interpreted a couple of vague reports through the noise to be prepared for 9/11. Please stick to facts on the ground.

          • xian

            the number one message of the outgoing Clinton national security team to the incoming Bush folks during the transition was the growing threat from al Qaeda, and Richard Clarke, who straddled the administrations, laid out in detail how he was unable to penetrate the Bush team’s obsessions and focus their attention on this gathering storm.

            I suspect this relates to the way Clinton was accused of wagging the dog when he bombed al Qaeda training camps in response to Cole, and that “opposite” thing I mentioned earlier.

            your belief that Obama’s politics differ significantly from those of Gore or either Clinton deserves some further scrutiny.

          • Rich Vail

            I love how anyone who opposes Obama’s political agenda are labeled as racists, terrorists, or, my personal favorite “enemies of the state.” I am none of those things, and I firmly oppose the growth of statism and the nanny state that we have ballooning under this president.

          • xian

            I don’t know who you are responding to, but I have not referred to anyone as any of those things. Maybe you should address your comments to someone who has espoused such a thing?

          • Rich Vail

            Watch TV news…leaders of the Democratic party have long used those terms to describe anyone who opposes Obama. As recently as this week, Oprah Winfrey claims that anyone who opposes Obama’s agenda is a racist…she, as I recall, is a huge donor to Democrats and Liberal causes.

          • xian

            take it up with them, not me, but try to argue more honestly and without straw men (or show me where Winfrey claimed “anyone” who opposes Obama is a racist– my recollection is she suggestex there was an element of racism in the opposition to Obama, which seems obvious to me, but not that she tarred every opponent of Obama with that same brush. If you’ve got a quotation that differs, without your own additional spin, share it and I’ll admit I’m wrong.).

            also, I recall McConnell bragging that the debt ceiling was “a hostage worth ransoming,” so he didn’t seem to have any problem with being viewed as a hostage-taker at the time.

          • xian

            also, I don’t watch TV news (aside from, occasionally, the Newshour), because it is 99% dreck.

            If you want random liberals on the internets to defend some use of hyperbole by a left-wing talking head, I assume you are prepared to defend everything Rush Limbaugh says.

          • Rich Vail

            AH attacks generally signal who is the loser in any argument.

          • xian

            by the way, how civil is it to label people who disagree with you as “low information sorts.”?

            “Low-information voters” has become, thanks to Rush, a shibboleth on the right, and was originally a neutral term used by pollsters.

          • CptNerd

            Kind of like “dance of the low-sloping foreheads” is a common if seldom spoke description of non-urban US citizens in “flyover country”? “What’s wrong with Kansas”, anyway?

          • Bob McGrail

            I did not label people who disagree with me as such. I labeled people who vote without much discussion or debate as such. I assert that folks who prefer direct democracy, are unaware of the great thinkers’ debates on the matter, and have spent little time discussing such tend towards the Democratic party.

            If that is wrong, so be it. If it insults you, you might need to take it easy.

          • xian

            I don’t insult that easy, particularly not from folks exhibiting unwarranted condescension.

      • Mike G

        The Senate, by it very name and structure is designed to be a brake on democracy.

        • xian

          by its name? you know senator basically means “old person” in Latin?

          it’s ask ready incredibly in democratic because pissant Wyoming gets as many votes as majestic Texas.

          • gawoodswarrior48

            Is there a problem with your shift key? While you are making cogent arguments all lower case writing weakens them.

          • xian

            hey look, I managed to capitalize Wyoming!

            but why no comma after arguments?

          • gawoodswarrior48

            I grant you the comma. But still no answer as to why all lower case.

          • xian

            it’s an internet-based punctuation style that started in the ’90s. if it bothers you, I don’t mind if you skip my comments.

          • gawoodswarrior48

            I see it as being lazy.

          • xian

            Well, good for you!

            Keep me posted on your moral judgments about my behavior. Without them I will be unable to improve myself.

          • xian

            Also, why did you start a sentence with “But” when it could easily have been a continuation of the first sentence after a comma and with a lowercase ‘b’?

          • gawoodswarrior48


          • gawoodswarrior48

            To put punch into the following argument. If it offended you, feel free to stop replying.

          • xian

            it didn’t offend me at all. I thought we were just trading pet peeves about how some people write.

          • Rich Vail

            The Senate’s make up was designed to give EVERY state, no matter how small it’s population the same weight…the House was specifically designed on population/representation. The Senate was specifically designed to keep the most populous states from dictating policy to the least populous states.

          • xian

            None of that contradicts the fact that it’s an undemocratic institution.

            What I really enjoy is how many of the same folks who love to say “it’s a republic not a democracy, derp!” (as if those are mutually exclusive categories) are now doubling-down on “this is the end of democracy, oh noes!”

  • wildrover4

    This is a well-written and thoughtful piece. That said, what I think this author and many authors have been missing is that the filibuster was only an implied power. Implied powers that are not exercised judiciously vanish. What would have been the cost to the Democrats had they not pulled the trigger? They would have essentially surrendered the ability to have the President fill vacant seats while they had the majority. What precedent would that have set? What should have happened is that the Republicans should have let two, or even one, of the nominees proceed on an up or down vote. They could have then dared Democrats to do this. But one of the primary rules of negotiation is that when you offer nothing, the other side has no incentive to negotiate with you. Neither political party was going to allow three vacant seats to remain empty, indefinitely, while they had the majority. That was just delusional.

  • Thomas Aquinas

    The liberty school realizes that those quacks who exploit democratic processes for their own purposes may destroy liberty and prosperity.

  • conservativechick

    And in other news: Venezuelan ruler gets the power to rule by decree

    “The president says he will use his autocratic authority to dictate the prices of goods and limit the profits of businesses. In the next few weeks, Venezuelans can expect more state-sponsored giveaways of goodies ranging from auto parts to sneakers.
    In the short run, the stripping of store shelves may allow Mr. Maduro to get through a round of local elections scheduled for early December. In the not-much-longer run, the result will be to compound shortages that have made toilet paper, milk and other basic food items nearly impossible to find. Thanks to the regime’s war on the private sector, Venezuela now imports 70 percent of its food, and even its vast oil revenues are not enough to compensate for the loss of local production.”

    • banger377

      It will all come out perfect when he declares that all wages will be $100.00/hour. Then everyone will be RICH! Paradise in our time.

  • Mike G

    The filibuster has also given senators some cover in the past by being able to play both sides. A senator could support legislation popular with their party but unpopular with many voters at home. When the sixty votes needed to advance any legislation or nominee couldn’t be rounded up, you could always blame the opposition with the safety of never having to actually have cast a vote. Now, at least with judicial nominations, that protection is gone.

    • Calvin Coolidge

      If it doesn’t apply to legislation, than your initial point does not make any sense. Besides, nobody has gotten voted out of office for their lack of or support of a judicial nominee.

      • Harry_Voyager

        It will apply to legislation. By nuking it for one thing, they’ve nuked it for everything.

        Once a rule is broken, it is broken and doesn’t hold anybody anymore.

  • Calvin Coolidge

    This is a great day for Conservatives. It was alwasy easier to get Liberals unto the Courts. Now we can pack the courts with solid Conservatives. Thomas and Scalia will be considered moderates when it is all said and done. Liberals are so short sighted and incapable of empathy. They come from a poisition of moral superiority which justifies their actions.

  • Calvin Coolidge

    The conclusion that this would have happened anyway is not supported by the facts. Republicans already had the option in 2005 and never pulled the trigger. Stop making things up to fit your fantasies. There is not a shred of evidence that Republicans would have used the nuclear option.

    • xian

      they didn’t need to use the option because when they threatened to in 2005, Democrats caved.

      your theory that they were bluffing or lying is interesting, though.

  • bflat879

    What a half-a$$ed explanation of what just happened. THe Senate rules say that you can only change the rules, by a majority, at the beginning of the legislative term, Reid blew that up. As McConnell said, “If you like your rules, you can keep your rules.” which basically went along with that other great promise the Democrats made.

    You also fail to mention the purpose of the filibuster, it’s to force compromise. Well, we know how Reid and Obama compromise, the don’t!! So, when you filibuster an appeals court nominee because you don’t believe they have a sound judicial temperament, rather than come up with one more middle of the road, you change the rules and Rahm through people who will bend the constitution to your way of thinking.

    The most divisive President in history wants to codify his vision and the only way he can do it is through the courts. So, the precedent has now been set that you can lie about legislation, people can know you lied but, through the courts, you can enforce those lies. Sounds like a banana republic to me!!!

    • georgedixon1

      In 1975, democrats changed the rules to the rules they just dumped

      “In 1975 the Democratic-controlled Senate[5] revised its cloture rule so that three-fifths of the senators sworn (usually 60 senators) could limit debate, except on votes to change Senate rules, which require two-thirds to invoke cloture.[18][19]”

      “The Senate experimented with a rule to remove the need to speak on the floor to filibuster (“talking filibuster”), thus allowing for “virtual filibusters”…”

    • ID-2

      Yep. Pretty much.

  • Calvin Coolidge

    WHy should it only apply to Supreme Court judges? Answer – because liberals get the judges they want on the Supreme Court without much of a fight. The first action of a Republican Senate would do away with all fillibusters for the courts.

  • georgedixon1

    A review or article about an event which covers some, but not all, of an issue is as deceitful as a democrat senate.
    The following frames the situation in total…not in a manner to give the article does:

    Percentage of judicial nominees confirmed during Obama’s first term, 71.4% Percentage of judicial nominees confirmed during Bush’s first term, 67.3%


    The Rules regarding Filibusters, which the Senate Democrats changed, were introduced about 38 Years Ago….by then Senate Democrats for their own political reasons.
    Time Passes:
    Now the Senate Democrats find their old “Filibuster rules game” has hobbled their agenda instead of hobbling the Republican agenda, as per the Democrat Senate goal in 1975 (when democrats changed the rules to the rules they just dumped)

    Hence the “new Filibuster rules game”….for a Party out of ideas as well as unable to get bi-partisan consensus due to their extreme Liberal agenda….

    To wit:
    “In 1975 the Democratic-controlled Senate[5] revised its cloture rule so that three-fifths of the senators sworn (usually 60 senators) could limit debate, except on votes to change Senate rules, which require two-thirds to invoke cloture.[18][19]. The Senate experimented with a rule to remove the need to speak on the floor to filibuster (“talking filibuster”), thus allowing for “virtual filibusters”…”

    Democrats and their enablers could never convince anyone IF the ENTIRE truth was told.

    • Calvin Coolidge

      I would like to see a full vetting of these nominees by the News media. I bet most Americans would be horrified by the views and opinions they hold. WHen is the last ime a judge appointed by a Democrat turned out to be a moderate or a Conservative. Unlike Republicans who have appointed reasonable people, the Democrat appointees are all solid ideological Liberals.

      • georgedixon1


        But, the vetting by the news media would be as through and as revealing as the Senate’s.

        Democrats without enablers to direct, deflect and shade the reality of their ideology and its consequences…would be nothing.

        Democrats with their media and academic enablers would simply skew that approach too much to trust.

      • xian

        why should a Democrat appoint a conservative?

        the fact is Dems bend over backward to appoint moderates to appease republicans, while Republicans appoint radical right-wing ideologues to the bench.

        • gawoodswarrior48

          According to your biased perspective. We, as a nation have drifted so far apart that to each, the others appointments are the handmaidens of Satan. I could change out the party affiliations for your statement and being equally as correct, and change right-wing to left-wing.

          • xian

            except that the Republicans have drifted very far right while the Democrats have hovered around the center, and have at time drifted right (as with the DLC) and then tacked back a bit more to the left (as with Obama, who is surely a center-left liberal but by no means a far-left socialist or whatever it is the loony right likes to call him).

            Of course I have my own perspective and don’t expect you to share it necessarily.

          • gawoodswarrior48

            Your reply showed inconsistent use of the 90s internet style dialog. First paragraph was lower case, and then the last paragraph started with an upper case. I concede that from your perspective, the left was center middle, to include President Obama. I don’t see taking a 6th of the economy under direct government control, through a disastrous Affordable Care Act plan can be anything but socialist. YMMV.

          • xian

            Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

            Your definition of “direct government control” is laughably naive. Does your doctor get his paycheck from the US government now?

            The funny part is that Obamacare is just about the most market-oriented, least disruptive to the existing system way of extending healthcare coverage to more Americans, and yet the right has convinced itself that it is the equivalent of the UK’s National Health (not to mention a single-payer system or even the inclusion of a public option in the exchanges).

            I don’t think you really understand what socialist means.

          • gawoodswarrior48

            I was enjoying our dialog, until your last comment. When the government directs a whole private industry to the extent and detail that the ACA does in its current presentation, then I believe it follows that it is socialism. When the ACA states numerous times that major provisions of this act will be decided in its implementation by governmental boards, bureaucrats, or the HHS Secretary, not us as individuals or private firms, again a reasonable person would state that is socialism. I don’t think you really understand what socialist means.

          • xian

            you were enjoying a series of punctuation comments? that’s nice.

            ok, so you believe that government regulation is socialism. It’s not, but at least I understand what you mean when you misuse the term.

            so you’d rather have individuals and private firms implement federal laws? interesting.

          • gawoodswarrior48

            No. Did you deliberately misunderstand my Socialist comment? I hope to make it more clear. Private business conducted between unforced individuals, in the market place, was in the past, currently, and with hope, also in the future, the best way to meet the myriad needs, wants and desires of American citizens. The ACA takes away freedom to choose, to make your own decisions, and to decide what is best you and yours. Nameless, faceless Bureaucrats will make decisions, enforce and create policies that neither you nor I will have any voice in, in that most precious of individual rights, your own healthcare decisions. Having the Feds between me and my doctor scares the crap out of me, as politicized as everything is heading toward. Will my being a conservative turn out to be a death sentence in federal decisions regarding my healthcare? Will my health records be “accidentally” released, to my detriment? If you see progressives as innocent in anything like that, what would by your opinion be if conservative wielded that power? Conservationism at its core is realistic fear of the power of big government to do big evils. Always with the best of intentions.

          • xian

            I understand you. I just think you’re mistaken to a large degree.

            Apparently you prefer faceless bureaucrats at insurance companies over those working for an elected government. I understand that.

            btw, paragraph breaks are great enhancers of legibility.

            I did have a voice in these policies. I voted for a president and congressional representatives who supported reforming our broken healthcare insurance markets and they delivered, thank goodness.

            There are no feds between you and your doctor, but if your employer’s religion disapproves of a medical procedure apparently that employer may get between you and your doctor, no problem.

            I have noticed that those on the right talk about how scared they are a lot. I do feel some compassion for this, especially as I believe the media demagogues from FOX, and Rush, and Beck, etc., make a living by ginning up fear. It’s unhealthy.

            I am not paranoid and even if and when (spaghetti monster forfend) conservative Republicans take over the US government again, I seriously doubt they will punish me for my liberal beliefs by spiking my healthcare. This is not a fear that enters my mind at all. For one thing, it makes little sense.

            Conservationism is a form of environmentalism focused on preserving natural habits. I believe you mean conservatism and that you are using a preferred definition of it that is not borne out by history.

          • gcandersen

            Actually, the Democrats have been moving hard to the left for years. The only claim they have to centrism is their own disingenuous definition of it based on their own extreme leftward shift. If even a quarter of a sample (the proportion that self identifies as “liberal”) moves sharply, it moves the center of the sample in that direction, despite little or no change in the positions of the rest of the sample.

          • xian

            hard left? like maoism or something?

            you’re just silly. Did Obama nationalize the banks? Did he nationalize the auto industry? Did he nationalize the healthcare industry?

            Do you have any ideas what “hard left” actually means?

          • gcandersen

            You make my point. You consider anything short of hard tyranny moderate. Don’t particularly like your patronizing attitude, either, but have gotten used to it among leftists in my 62 years.

          • xian


            let’s recap:

            you: dems are moving hard to the left
            me: really? hard left? like communism?
            you: oh, so they they are moderate? waaaaaah!

            why not stick to defending your original point instead of fabricating my position for me?

            i suppose it’s easier to go into “you people” insult mode.

            bonus: accuse other of being patronizing while citing one’s own many years of condescending to “leftists.”

          • gcandersen

            Guess you can’t read. You outed yourself as a leftist; I didn’t have to fabricate anything. Me condescending? No, just tired of the patronizing bullshit I have seen and heard from the left my entire life. As for defending, or more accurately advancing, my original premise, as I said in my last post I don’t have to. You did it for me when you outed yourself,

          • xian

            doubling down on the illogical derp I see.

  • savannah1234567890

    Reid just guaranteed Supreme Court Justice Ted Cruz!

    • xian

      lol. appointed by president Palin?

    • TomB19

      You should think about that for a minute. No Supreme Court nominee has ever been filibustered. Bork came close but what doomed his chances was public opinion. Bork was loquacious and everyone knew where he stood – just like Ted Cruz. If this happened, not only would the Senate be flooded with calls from angry constituents, the White House would be inundated with calls and the President (a Republican) would face tanking poll numbers and calls for his resignation. Cruz would stand a better chance at serving on an appellate or circuit court, though I think his chances would be slim. The media would hound him day and night and his past statements would be fodder for late night television. Same goes for Governor Palin.

      • savannah1234567890

        I appreciate your comment. My point is that there won’t be a filibuster because the Rs will win the Senate and change the rules. When Ruth kicks, Cruz is in as a stick in the Ds eye.

        • TomB19

          That’s true. You may be right. Would be fascinating hearings, no? But even if they change the rules, Cruz is still an embarrassment. Appreciate your comment, too.

  • PDQuig

    Nuke D.C.

    Problem solved.

  • George Gamble

    Always beware the unintended consequences. Obama could try to pack the courts, but the House of Reps has the ability to withhold the purse to fund those courts should they consider it gets out of hand.

    • TomB19

      Hmm. I guess that’s a good enough reason to wrest the House from GOP leadership.

  • tdperk

    Mr. Hawkings tries to deceive us in writing…

    “The official numbers from the Senate confirm a principal talking point
    of Reid’s – that half of all the filibusters to thwart confirmations in
    the history of the Senate have come during this administration.”

    Where the relevant truth is…

    “Percentage of judicial nominees confirmed during Obama’s first term,
    71.4% Percentage of judicial nominees confirmed during Bush’s first
    term, 67.3%”

    Until Obama saw the best chance to preserve his “legacy” was judicial appointments, and he began to nominate the most partisan possible persons to positions they were not qualified remotely to hold, he had a far easier time than Bush did.

  • FarmBoy11B

    “super-conservative nominees”? I see no language that describes the liberal nominees in similar terms. ended up being a waste of my time reading this.

  • DaTechGuy on DaRadio

    Notice how the author assumes the GOP would have done the same thing when they specifically did not when they had the chance

    • TomB19

      In 2005, the gang of 14 stopped Frist from deploying the nuclear option. He had the GOP votes to do so but Democrats agreed not to filibuster any of Bush’s nominees and the Republicans were content to move on. This time, the GOP refused to prevent filibustering current judicial nominees even after repeated discussions and attempts at conciliation. Let me repeat, the Republicans refused to stop filibustering the President’s nominees. To my mind, the GOP created this mess.

  • LizardLizard

    See also “Harry, Barak and Yucca Mt.” in today’s (11/23/13) Wall Street Journal Review & Outlook. Another reason to call it the “nuclear option”, perhaps.

  • Wuthie

    When you have a minority party constantly obstructing the majority party for no good reason, then rules need to be changed.

    The Republicans in my opinion have done this. Mike Lee from Utah swore he would not vote for any appointee of Obama’s even if he thought they would be good. This is absolute nonsense and senators like this need to be replaced

    This shouldn’t be a war between two parties of lawmakers. They have some different ideologies, but neither is necessarily right or wrong. America has become strong based on compromise, not “MY Way Or The Highway” dictator type Tea Party movement.

    Hawkings was right. The Republicans would have changed the rule when they got power in the senate, because they knew the Democrats would do the same thing they have been doing.

    The filibuster should be used as it was intended, for the minority to be able to get their views heard, not obstruct nominations or bills.

  • Kansas_City

    Come on. The exceptions for supreme court and legislation are meaningless. The decmocrats made the exceptions because they did not need them. If they need either, they will make that change in a heartbeat.

    • xian

      as will the GOP, if they ever get the chance

      • Kansas_City

        Yes, now they will do it. They did NOT do it in the past when they had the chance.
        There is an interesting theory that this will backfire on liberals in the sense that the 60 vote super majority has always protected liberal laws, i.e., once a liberal program is adopted, it can never be repealed due to the fillilbuster rule. That is no longer the case. A 50 vote senate majority (with the VP) with greatly increase the potential for swings back and forth.

        • xian

          they did not do it in 2005 because the Democrats caved to their threats. Is your argument that they were bluffing in 2005 or lying?

          Also, is this a terrible thing but now it will be OK if the GOP does it since the Democrats “did it first”? That is a playground argument.

          The interesting theory is pretty stupid given that the filibuster has been used overwhelming to block progressive laws and to defend conservative institutions such as slavery and black voter suppression.

          I say if a GOP president has a majority in the Senate, he or she should be able to appoint the agency heads and judges he or she wants.

  • Slam1263

    What happened to Number 2?
    Why’d that get flushed?

  • xian

    classic projection: thinking anyone who can string a sentence together is also working from talking points.

  • Thomas Aquinas

    Liberty enables unlimited choices when compared to the limited options that can be conjured up by central government “choice architects”.

  • Liberalism is Nonsense

    Sympathy for altruism should not impel us to accept collectivist demands that we cast aside morality and liberty to chase their illusions.

  • Liberalism Is Nonsense

    Even though Marxism is revolutionary and Fabianism gradualist, the centrally dictated system that each envisions is basically the same.

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...