Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 31, 2015

‘Nuclear’ Nominations Aftermath Slows Senate to Crawl

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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.

In November, the majority leader and his fellow Democrats detonated the so-called nuclear option to prevent the minority from blocking executive and most judicial nominations. But Democrats didn’t limit the debate time allowed under the rules on nominations — with Republicans in some cases entitled to up to 30 hours per nomination.

“I might say many of these nominees would have been confirmed last December had we not experienced this event perpetrated by the majority in a heavy-handed attempt to alter the balance, to change the nature of the Senate with a simple majority,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the floor. “It was an unfortunate decision, but those kinds of decisions have consequences. And all we have done here is exercise … the rights that senators have under the rules of the Senate.

“If the majority leader doesn’t like the way the Senate is working, I would recommend that he change his behavior,” McConnell continued.

Or, Reid could effectively change the rules again.

Senate Democratic aides said it’s unclear whether there are enough votes to use the nuclear option a second time to limit the post-cloture time — yet.

“What you will have again is a slow building up of these violations of the comity of the Senate,” one aide said. “And you’ll have, if it continues, the momentum again to make another rules change.”

The aide said Democrats’ options range from eliminating post-cloture time to requiring a talking filibuster once cloture is invoked on nominations.

Post-cloture time wasn’t really discussed back when Democrats were gearing up to go “nuclear.”

“The goal was to make it so that if we went through all this trouble and took all this floor time people would be confirmed,” one aide said.

There’s also the likelihood that Republicans would shift to other retaliatory tactics, such as limiting the time committees can meet.

Delaying tactics take on extra power in an election year because any business that can’t get done efficiently is likely to be kicked over into a post-election session — where the dynamics may be very different because of the election’s outcome.

Democrats, should they lose the majority, would likely face a choice — cut loose some nominations given the limited time available or eliminate post-cloture time to slam through nominations before a Republican holds the gavel.

Another Democratic aide said Republicans appear to be using a playbook of calibrated obstruction strategy aimed at mucking up the schedule but not so much that Democrats would go nuclear again.

It’s clear Democrats and the White House have successes from going “nuclear” despite the trouble, including filling three seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and confirming Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez and naming ex-Rep. Melvin Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. None of those nominations received 60 votes and presumably would have been blocked without the rules change.

A Republican aide said any talk of further changes to the nominations process belies concerns Democrats have over keeping their majority.

“They look desperate,” the GOP aide said. “Desperate to do what they could ahead of what many observers say will be a very difficult election day for Senate Democrats.”

The aide also suggested that the new simple majority hurdle for nominations has exposed rifts among Democrats.

One case in point was the nomination of Debo P. Adegbile, who was nominated to head the Department of Justice’s civil rights division. Eight Senate Democrats voted against Adegbile after groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police came out against the nomination over his participation in the legal defense of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

“The check on executive power is gone,” the aide said of the nuclear option. “Now the administration is only expected to court the most partisan block of Democrats they can find.”

A new book on the filibuster, “The Senate Syndrome” by Steven S. Smith of Washington University in St. Louis, suggests the current balancing act isn’t a long-term answer.

“The compromising reformers’ search for a new balance between majority rule and supermajority cloture is likely to fail,” Smith wrote.

“Most recent reformers … are not very specific about the place in history to which they would like to see the Senate practices restored. Many of them point to the mid-twentieth century, when filibusters were rare and seemed to be reserved for the most important issues. This wish reflects self-deception or ignorance,” Smith wrote. “Liberals of that era were at least as agitated as today’s reformers about how parliamentary procedure was used to block action on their legislation.”

  • ShadrachSmith

    The Democrats biggest image problem this year is incompetence. And Reid uses the nuclear option to speed things up, and it winds up slowing things down. And more important than slowing things down, it makes Democrat Senators in red states support party line appointments of hard-case liberals in roll-call votes.

    It is almost like Obama wants to lose the Senate.

    • Ninja0980

      Here’s the thing, in many conservatives eye’s, anyone who is not a mold of Scalia or Alito is a flaming liberal.

      • ShadrachSmith

        When did many conservatives give you permission to speak for their standards?
        Your bigotry is your own.

        • Ninja0980

          It’s called freedom of speech, something conservatives claim to love.

          • Common_Sense_Post

            Liberals believe anyone who will not spend everything we have and everything we will have on whatever wants we have today is callous and wrong. What say you about your repugnant stand on wasteful spending?

          • Ninja0980

            Wasteful spending. You mean like on our bloated military budget?

          • Common_Sense_Post

            Yea, all that stuff you supported and waste and corruption on a grand scale t like the stimulus. Well done sir!

          • bowhowdy2

            I don’t totally disagree, but the Democrats voted for that bloated military and a heck of a lot of them voted for those two useless wars! When they had a chance to slash the military when they controlled everything from 2009-2010, they didn’t do so.

          • Ninja0980

            You act like the Democrats were all the same.
            They aren’t, hence the reason single payer couldn’t get done, nor ENDA, nor cuts to the military.

          • Peter

            Ninja: freedom to speak for yourself; not for others. I’m not surprised your progressive mindset cannot understand the difference.

      • KhadijahMuhammad

        Nothing like some uniformed hyperbole to brighten up your day.

      • FreedomRings_CA

        That is simply not true.

        • Ninja0980

          Then why block Obama’s nominees to the 10th circuit then?

          • FreedomRings_CA

            And from this you conclude that “true conservatives” view anyone not an Alito or Scalia as a “flaming liberal” ?

            Did you sleep through your logical reasoning course in college ?

      • davesnothere

        “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”

      • Kitten Gatto

        Not even close. You a speaking out your….

        • Ninja0980

          It is actually. But you and the others simply won’t acknowledge the fact Republicans had no intention of letting Obama put judges on the D.C circuit or elsewhere as long as he was in office unless it was someone in the far right mold they liked.

      • jd0717

        Here’s a counterpoint. To many liberals, anyone who is not in the mold of Al Sharpton or Maxine Waters is a racist bigot.

  • Malik Ahsan
  • libertytribune

    Go ahead and play the nuclear option, it is an election year and from the looks of it, you are going to get creamed from the looks of it. So, go ahead you old fool.

  • KhadijahMuhammad

    The largest challenge facing this nation is the inability of Democrats to acknowledge the Laws of Unintended Consequences.

    Take an action, there will be a reaction. Going nuclear was an engraved invitation for McConnell to deploy every trick remaining to him in the book, and if THOSE rules get changed as well…….well, no sense having a Senate anymore. It will be nothing more than a rubber stamp for the majority party.

  • Dan Wafford

    Obama and Reid have already proven repeatedly that when the rules don’t suit their personal agendas, they will change, ignore, or violate them as required to jam through what they want. Someday the Republicans will be in the majority again, and just wait until you hear the screaming outrage from the Dem side if the Republicans even contemplate the possibility of pulling some of these same hijinx.

    • FreedomRings_CA

      As my grandma used to say – what is sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander.

      She was a wise woman.

      Much wiser than Harry Reid. Longer-sighted, as well.

  • Mygoodness

    So the republicans will enhance the option by eliminating the filibuster for other types of business. Then the democrats will only have the veto pen. We all know how much backbone old “Line in the Sand” Obama has. The next two years could be interesting and we owe it all to the liberals for opening Pandora’s box.

  • semby

    You reap what you sow.
    Bring it on!

  • moderate Guy

    Yes, please change the rules; just before GOP takeover of the Senate.

  • jeannebodine

    “What you will have again is a slow building up of these violations of the comity of the Senate”
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Who writes this stuff? Hilarious!

  • elephant4life

    Here’s an idea: get rid of Harry Reid, then see whether the Senate functions any better. It could hardly function worse.

  • Randy Townsend

    Dims run the Senate any way they want, and it’s STILL those mean, old, obstructionist Republicans that are to blame… At some point, you have to wonder about the issue of incompetence on the part of the D’s… Well, you don’t wonder much…

  • Amused

    The secular left seems to just not understand the whole concept of “Karma”.

    They will!

  • Jaymes

    Things are only going to get worse. This is what happens when you nonchalantly destroy a 200+ year old institution.

  • DisgustedwithElitism

    Reid is not a leader. Pelosi is not a leader. BHO is not a leader. HRC is not a leader.

    “DEFINITION: Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” from “What Is Leadership?” (www. forbes. com/ sites/ kevinkruse/ 2013/04/09/ what-is-leadership/)

    ‘Parts of the public, not necessarily on the right, have caught on to Obama’s double game, in which his administration has been rhetorically egalitarian and operationally elitist. The economic winners of the Obama years have been, in Joel Kotkin’s terms, the “oligarchs of Wall Street and Silicon Valley.” The losers have come not only from the private-sector middle class, but also from heavily Democratic minority groups.’ from “A Glimpse into the Political Future” (www. city-journal. org/ 2014/ eon0411fs.html)

    The modern Democrat Party favors autocrats and tyrants; only the naive and those invested in the single-issue splinter groups that comprise its coalition would continue to see it as a party of the People.

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