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Posts in "Filibusters"
July 21, 2014
A pileup of nominations — particularly for scores of would-be U.S. ambassadors — has the Obama administration pushing hard for Senate action ahead of the August recess, while senators want to get home to campaign before the midterms.
There are 224 executive and 29 judicial nominations awaiting Senate action, according to the White House, including many whose lives have been on hold for a year or more. The Senate last year used the “nuclear option” to change the rules so a simple majority can confirm most nominations — and that move has shrunk the judicial backlog.
But a backlog has built up in executive branch nominees, including 56 ambassadors.
Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to voice concern over the pileup, and a State Department spokesman said the former Massachusetts senator was expected to speak by phone with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Monday while traveling in the Middle East.
“We hope the Senate will come to agreement to confirm nominees before heading into recess,” Assistant Secretary Doug Frantz said in a statement Monday. ”There is plenty of time remaining in July to do so, particularly if they can reach an agreement to approve the career nominees in a block as Secretary Kerry has proposed.”
“We are redoubling our efforts on ambassadors,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Democrats are about to threaten the August break to confirm them.
“These ambassadors are America’s front lines, fighting to defend our interests abroad — our security interests, our national interests, and our economic interests,” Reid said last week. ”Right now, there are gaping holes in our nation’s front lines. … A quarter of all American embassies are without an ambassador.”
After the rules change, Republicans retaliated by slow-walking numerous nominees; the rules change allowed a simple majority to advance nominees but kept in place time limits that allow Republicans to force Democrats to burn days of floor time to get to a final vote.
“Some Senate observers say that Republicans are stalling these nominations as payback for the rules changes instituted by the Senate,” Reid said. “Let me see if I can wrap my head around this — Republicans are stalling executive nominees vital to our national security to get back at Democrats? To get back at me? Stalling these nominees is jeopardizing America’s interests abroad. It is damaging our nation’s role in global affairs. It is damaging our national security. Is this conjured-up political retribution worth harming the U.S.?”
Republicans say Democrats only have themselves to blame.
“Their complaint assumes there should be no consequences for Majority Leader Reid breaking the rules of the Senate to change the rules on the processing of nominations,” the Senate Republican Policy Committee wrote in an issue brief. “The consequences of that act were predictable. Senator Obama predicted the consequences himself when a rules change was contemplated in 2005, saying, ‘If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.’”
The nominations backlog in the ambassadorial ranks has been a recurring topic of discussion at the regular State Department press briefings in recent weeks.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki likened the Kerry proposal to accelerate career appointees to the way the Senate treats military promotions.
“And just to not to put too fine a point on it, obviously for America to continue to play a strong role in the world, we need equal treatment for diplomats, we need to have ambassadors and our representatives on the front lines in these countries around the world,” she said on July 9.
Asked if the nuclear option has contributed to the backlog, Psaki dismissed the contention.
“There has been a logjam in the Senate on the Senate floor about nominations and legislation long before … Majority Leader Reid moved forward with the nuclear option several months ago. That was put in place because there was a complete deadlock on getting anything done in the Senate at all,” she said.
Democrats have also highlighted delays of top veterans’ officials — some waiting more than a year for confirmation even as the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs unfolded.
Numerous other would-be officials are awaiting their fate. If they don’t get confirmation before the August recess, they’ll be waiting months longer for confirmation — or be stalled forever — given that the Senate will have a limited schedule before the November elections and faces a lame-duck session where floor time will be at a premium.
At some point, Senate Democrats could deploy the nuclear option again to cut down on what the Senate aide calls the “slow-motion temper tantrum.”
At the beginning of this Congress in January 2013, the chamber adopted a bipartisan agreement that reduced the post-cloture debate time for certain nominations. That agreement will expire at the end of the year.
If they manage to maintain the majority, Democrats would have to either negotiate time rules with Republicans or use the nuclear option again.
Given the mounting frustrations, “If it comes to a head, the caucus will be more supportive,” the aide predicted.
Correction 6:42 p.m.
An earlier version of this post misattributed the quote from the Republican Policy Committee.
July 17, 2014
Senate Set to Confirm Ambassador to Possible Malaysia Airlines MH17 Crash Investigator (Video) (Updated)
Updated 6:59 p.m. | The Senate is set to confirm a new U.S. ambassador to an international body that’s been responsible for investigating airplane crashes such as Malaysia Airlines MH17.
Roll Call reported on the vacancy earlier Thursday, and now the Senate has reached an agreement for a Monday evening vote on confirmation.
That’s as the crash of the Malaysia Airlines flight in Eastern Ukraine reported to have had Americans on board may require an independent investigation. As reported by Roll Call’s Five by Five, U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization, which investigated the 1983 shoot-down of a Korean Air Lines flight, has a nominee awaiting Senate confirmation.
July 16, 2014
Roughly 17 years after first being nominated, Ronnie L. White is finally on his way to becoming a federal judge in Missouri.
The Senate confirmed White, 53-44, to a seat in the Eastern District of Missouri after limiting debate earlier in the day with 54 affirmative votes, short of the 60 that used to be required for cloture before Democrats used the “nuclear option” in 2013 to effectively change the rules.
White’s nomination during the Clinton administration eventually fell on a party-line vote in 1999, 45-54. Republicans had the majority in the Senate at that time. Ahead of Wednesday’s action, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called the original vote “a grievous error.”
July 9, 2014
Gun politics appear all-but-certain to destroy any chance of advancing a bipartisan hunting, fishing and conservation package — and with it, a chance for Sen. Kay Hagan and other endangered Democrats to tout their bipartisan legislative bona fides ahead of the November elections.
The package had huge initial support on a test vote, but like so many other bills this Congress, it quickly devolved into a standoff over politically charged amendments. A fight over gun control isn’t what Democrats had in mind when they brought the bill to the floor, but that’s what they got.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., wants to broadly expand firearm access within the District of Columbia, and numerous other amendments by Republicans would expand access to firearms and ammunition, cheered on by the group Gun Owners of America. That group has blasted the bill as a “fake ‘pro-gun’ bill designed to re-elect endangered anti-gun Democrats up in 2014 in pro-gun states,” and the “Harry Reid Preservation Act.” Full story
May 22, 2014
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., doesn’t favor getting rid of the filibuster — even if the GOP takes the majority next year. But he stressed that Democrats have set a precedent for changing the Senate rules on a simple majority vote.
“I think the supermajority requirement in the Senate has been important to the country,” McConnell said, adding that he believe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has done “a lot of damage” to the institution. Full story
May 21, 2014
Updated 3:15 p.m. | Sen. Rand Paul wore comfortable shoes to work today, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to hold the floor for hours.
The Kentucky Republican told a small cadre of reporters gathered just off the Senate floor following a 31-minute speech contesting the Obama administration’s use of drones for targeted killings of Americans that he didn’t think he could stall confirmation of David J. Barron to be a First Circuit appeals court judge.
“They wouldn’t give me the extensive time today,” Paul said. “I am going to speak probably right before the vote and try to convince some people. I don’t think I’m having much luck though.”
May 20, 2014
Updated 7:25 p.m. | Sen. Rand Paul intends to take the Senate floor Wednesday to contest the nomination of David J. Barron to be a federal appeals court judge, though it doesn’t appear the Kentucky Republican will halt Barron’s confirmation.
That’s in part because the White House plans to release the legal justification for the government’s use of unmanned drones to target U.S. citizens, according to Sen. Mark Udall.
“This is a welcome development for government transparency and affirms that although the government does have the right to keep national security secrets, it does not get to have secret law,” the Colorado Democrat said in a statement. “I am proud the Administration appears to have heeded my call and committed to abide by a recent Second Circuit Court ruling and publicly release this memo. With this decision, I am now able to support the nomination of David Barron to the federal bench.”
It’s unclear exactly how long Paul plans to speak about Barron and the drone program Wednesday, but staffers around the Capitol are preparing for a late Wednesday session.
The drone issue is the same subject that prompted last year’s the #standwithrand filibuster of John O. Brennan’s nomination to be CIA director. Barron wrote memos justifying the Obama administration policy when he served as acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.
“I rise today to oppose the nomination of anyone who would argue that the President has the power to kill American citizens not involved in combat,” Paul plans to say on Wednesday, according to an excerpt from his office. “I rise today to say that there is no legal precedent for killing American citizens not directly involved in combat and that any nominee who rubber stamps and grants such power to a President is not worthy of being placed one step away from the Supreme Court.” Full story
Updated 3:30 p.m. | On the morning of his Republican counterpart’s primary back home in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would not change the chamber’s rules in his absence.
But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell might well be advised to be prepared for another floor standoff over consideration of nominations, even if its unclear just how much the
Reid took to the floor to reprise familiar complaints about GOP delays of nominations, although some of his examples didn’t appear to be held up today.
“I don’t plan on changing the rules today again, but how much longer can we put up with this? Even law enforcement officers … even law enforcement officers, as I’ve indicated here, they’re holding them up for no reason,” Reid said. “You don’t hear people coming down here giving speeches about what horrible people the president selected to be the U.S. attorney in Louisiana, New Mexico and Connecticut, not a word. They just hide behind their obstruction.”
But not long after, the Senate locked-in a unanimous consent agreement setting up consideration of the three U.S. attorneys on Wednesday, with confirmation for each possible by voice vote.
May 15, 2014
“Does he know we already did that?” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quipped when asked about a comment President Barack Obama made Wednesday about changing the Senate’s filibuster rule.
Obama told a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee audience in New York that changes are needed to “how a filibuster works.”
“We have made significant progress with regard to judges, tremendous progress,” Reid said. Full story
May 12, 2014
Republicans blocked an energy efficiency bill after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repeatedly blocked Republican efforts to vote on five energy amendments Monday — and the GOP rejected an offer to vote on the Keystone pipeline instead.
The 55-36 vote highlights the reality in today’s Senate — 60 votes are needed for legislation. And Reid has been very reluctant to give Republicans votes on amendments that could put vulnerable Democrats on the spot ahead of the midterm elections.
Reid repeatedly offered up a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline if the energy efficiency bill passed, but that wasn’t enough for Senate Republicans. Full story
May 8, 2014
Amid the stalling energy efficiency and Keystone XL pipeline debate in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid has once again resorted to blaming the Koch brothers for their “radical agenda,” on Wednesday calling the two principal owners of Koch Industries “one of the main causes” of climate change.
“The multi-zillionaire Koch brothers … they are one of the main causes of [climate change], not a cause, one of the main causes,” the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor. “Charles and David Koch are waging a war against anything that protects the environment. Now I know that sounds absurd, but it’s true.”
On Tuesday, The White House released a report detailing the effects of climate change, which was met with a bipartisan blast of hot air in Congress.
Niels Lesniewski and Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.
April 29, 2014
Five House Republicans from Louisiana want to see the state’s Senate delegation try to delay confirmation of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be Health and Human Services secretary until they get assurances about equitable enforcement of health care law provisions.
It’s likely to be an ill-fated exercise, one that’s clearly about pressuring Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu.
“Families across Louisiana have faced cancelled health insurance plans, rising health insurance premiums, and the loss of access to doctors and hospitals while watching the Administration pick political favorites through selective exemptions from the ACA. It is wholly unfair for families to still be threatened with penalties from the IRS at the same time as insurance companies and businesses are granted unilateral relief,” the letter said. “Please join us in calling for fairness for all under the law by placing a hold on Ms. Burwell’s nomination until she agrees to provide equitable treatment for all Americans under the Affordable Care Act.”
April 15, 2014
Advocates asking the judiciary to declare the filibuster unconstitutional were dealt a major setback Tuesday by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court said it lacked jurisdiction because Common Cause and the House lawmakers associated with bringing the lawsuit had sued the wrong party.
“In short, Common Cause’s alleged injury was caused not by any of the defendants, but by an ‘absent third party’ — the Senate itself,” the court held. Full story
April 14, 2014
Just how many of President Barack Obama’s nominees will get confirmed this year? If last week is any indication, the answer may depend on whether Democrats once again employ the “nuclear” option to effectively change the Senate’s rules.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a big deal last week about scheduling nomination votes on the Friday before recess, but with senators in both parties eager to jet out of town, the Nevada Democrat was forced to punt.
“We are slogging through these nominations,” Reid said April 10 on the Senate floor. “It is kind of slow because of the inordinate amount of time that we are caused to eat up.”
Reid pondered on the floor whether he should have gone even further on rules changes last year, given the Republican slow-walking of nominations whose confirmations have become a fait accompli, and he lamented that a minimum wage debate he hoped to have on the Senate floor before the break was delayed as a result. Full story
April 11, 2014
Thursday night’s unplanned — but predictable — shift in the Senate’s vote schedule meddled with plans of senators who actually planned to show up for work Friday.
While it’s not clear how many Republicans planned to be at the Capitol had votes gone forward late Friday, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee certainly did.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa drove himself back to the Capitol complex at around 8:30 p.m., on Thursday.
Standing outside the Dirksen building, Grassley said he had returned to pick up materials for his trip back to Iowa for the two-week recess, having expected to be in Washington until after a series of nomination votes that were slated to start at 5 p.m. Friday.
“I was going to come back to the office and vote and fly out tomorrow night. Now, I’ve got to come back to the office and get the stuff I left here,” Grassley said.