It has been an interesting week since Harry Reid invoked the nuclear option to ensure Presidential nominees are no longer blocked by an increasingly power-hungry Tea Party minority. From the right of the Republican Party, there appears to be a constant “We’re a republic! Not a democracy!” odd little tantrum, in a curiously weak attempt to justify their horrendous inability to accept that they lost the election. It should be noted that the US is indeed a republic, framed by the Constitution, which, in the case of Congressional rule changes quite clearly states:
“Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.”
Article 1; Section 5; Clause 2.
– Also, when it comes to Presidential nominees to executive branch positions, the President has that right. As long as those nominees are qualified, they are entitled to be confirmed, with the President shaping his administration as he sees fit. The Senate traditionally is there to advise and consent, to block only in the most extreme of conditions, and not to usurp that power and use it for fringe-partisanship. The filibuster not only gives a voice to the minority (who are entitled to that voice, via debate), it gives that minority far more power than both the majority party in the Senate, and the President combined.
That being said, it’s true that both President Obama and Harry Reid condemned the nuclear option during the Bush administration, whilst Democrats were the minority party in the Senate. But it is equally true, and needless to point out that President Bush wasn’t facing the sheer force of extreme obstructionism facilitated by the filibuster that the Obama White House faces today.
The nuclear option, in short, means that nominees by the executive branch require a simply majority of 51 votes for appointment, rather than the 60 votes needed if filibustered.
So, why did Harry Reid feel that he had to use a procedural measure to prevent further nominee filibustering in the Senate? Well, it’s quite obvious when you look at the past three years.
Let’s start with the most staggering.
Number of Presidential nominees filibustered over the course of US history: 147.
Number of those Presidential nominees filibustered before Obama took office: 68.
Number of those Presidential nominees filibustered since Obama took office: 79.
More than half of all filibustered nominees for executive branch positions – since before the White House was even built – have taken place during President Obama’s five years as President. This stat alone should be more than enough to convince anyone of the need to curb the abuse of power by a minority wing, or a minority party, that could not win the Presidential election, nor the Senate, nor the popular vote for the House. But in case you’re still on the fence, here are a few more stats:
Between 1949 and 2008, 20 cloture votes had been held to end filibusters, and push for a three-fifths majority vote. In 59 years, 20 votes. Between 2008 and 2013 – just five years – cloture has had to be invoked 27 times.
In President Bush’s two terms, the number of cloture votes for Presidential nominees was 7. In President Clinton’s two terms, the cloture votes for Presidential nominees, was 9. By early 2013, 16 of the President’s executive branch nominees had required cloture votes. In one Presidential term alone.
Interestingly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who seems to have no problem with the obscene amount of obstructionism his party is willing to adopt in preventing the appointment of Presidential nominees, wasn’t too happy with it when the shoe was on the other foot. During the Bush Presidency, McConnell said:
“To correct this abuse, the majority in the Senate is prepared to restore the Senate’s traditions and precedents to ensure that regardless of party, any president’s judicial nominees, after full and fair debate, receive a simple up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. It is time to move away from advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent.”
– Ironically, McConnell is now the King of the obstruction he harshly condemned in 2005.
Damningly for McConnell, on top of the 16 cloture votes by March 2013, we see the situation getting worse. Between March 2013, and November 2013, a staggering 11 more cloture votes – taking the total to 27 – for executive branch positions were required after being targets of filibusters from Senate Republicans.
75 executive branch nominations, to incredibly important positions, have waited an average of 140 days for confirmation. The obstruction in the Senate, leads to gridlock across agencies. This isn’t just unfair, it is dangerous. There is absolutely no need nor requirement for the Senate to demand a super majority for Presidential nominations.
And that’s just on nominees. Motions to end a filibuster by procedure during George Bush’s term, and when the party in the White House also controlled the Senate stood at 130 over two terms. Over just one term, and six months of President Obama’s Presidency, that number stands at 307. The era of block-over-debate had to come to an end.
These incredibly telling figures represent another wing – after the ill-considered Republican shut down – of the Republican strategy to destabilise the operation of government departments that people count on every day, simply because the election did not go their own way. The nuclear option was both necessary and inevitable. The reaction from the Republican camp to Reid’s decision has been predictable. Harry Reid – they claim – had choked democracy. This was the end of America as we know it. The usual hyperbole.
Strangely, the same Republicans didn’t react with equal venom when on September 30th of this year, House Republicans changed House rules to take the power to end a government shutdown away from all members of the House, and bestow it upon the House Majority Leader only. It’s a curious hypocrisy, but nevertheless completely expected from that section of the delusional right that holds nothing but contempt for democracy when it goes against them.