Harry Reid's Triumph

At least when it comes to executive branch and (most) judicial branch appointments, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, democracy is coming to the United States Senate. Senate Democrats responded to the Republican minority's blockade against any Obama appointments to the D.C. Circuit by eliminating the filibuster for most presidential nominations. This vote will likely be the most important congressional vote of President Obama's second term, and Senate Majority Harry Reid and most of the rest of the Democratic caucus deserve immense credit for pulling it off.

I have explained at length why I believe that the filibuster is an indefensible practice. The short version is that the American political system already has an inordinately high number of veto points, so anyone favoring additional extraconstitutional ones should face a very high burden of proof. The filibuster, with its long and dismal history of allowing overrepresented minorities to prevent Congress from addressing the interests of underrepresented ones, doesn't even come close.

Another way of knowing that Senate Dems did the right thing is to consider the emptiness of the threats being made in the wake of the filibuster's demise. Several opponents of abortion rights are crowing that this will allow Republicans to appoint anti-Roe justices to the Supreme Court. (Technically, the filibuster changes don't affect the Supreme Court, but it's clear that the deal will doom Supreme Court filibusters as well.) The rather obvious rejoinder to this is that Republican presidents will nominate anti-Roe justices no matter what, and it would be neither realistic nor desirable for a Democratic minority in the Senate to serially filibuster Republican Supreme Court nominees. The Senate did save Roe by stopping Robert Bork, but this was done with a straight up-or-down vote, not a filibuster. It's worth noting that with the filibuster in place, George W. Bush got two of the most reactionary nominees of the last 70 years confirmed to the Supreme Court. How much worse can the Republican nominees get than Sam Alito? Ted Cruz? Zombie Roger Taney?

The only decent argument against the rule change is that it should have been done at the beginning of the session rather than through the "nuclear option." But it's pretty hard for Republicans to invoke norms of behavior and bipartisan comity at this late date. Under McConnell's leadership the Republican minority has thrown away historical norms about the use of the filibuster. They can't have it both ways. And as the Prospect's Paul Waldman explains, one would have to be remarkably naive to think that Republicans wouldn't have done exactly the same thing if they were in the same position.

The real question is why Senate Republicans made such an obvious strategic blunder. The filibuster in general is more beneficial to Republican interests than Democratic ones, and it seems likely that Republicans could have stopped reluctant Democrats from detonating the nuclear option by letting one or two D.C. Circuit nominees get a vote earlier in the process. Why did they allow this to happen? I can think of three possible explanations:

Short-term thinking

Focusing on potential primarily challengers and unable to think strategically past their immediate goals, Senate Republicans didn't stop to consider that eliminating the filibuster (potentially for everything) would hurt their long-term interests. If this was true, they got routed both in the short- and long-term, and the behavior of the Republican conference was essentially irrational.

Misunderestimating Harry Reid

Senate Republicans—like many liberals—may have assumed that Reid's threats were empty. But Reid is sometimes mistaken for a weak leader precisely because like all competent political leaders he doesn't make broad threats he doesn't have the votes to back up. When he does make threats the underrated, very savvy Reid is likely to have the support to back it up. If they didn't grasp this, Republicans found out the hard way.

Delusion

Some Senate Republicans may have convinced themselves that liberals will be more ruthless in their use the filibuster than conservatives. That is quite clearly false. The filibuster has almost always favored opponents of social reform, and since progressives generally want to do things and conservatives generally want to stop things this will almost certainly be true going forward. But never underestimate someone's ability to stop believing their own guff.

Whatever caused the Republicans to escalate Senate dysfunction enough to push Democrats over the edge, the reform of the filibuster is a great thing. Yes, it will allow Republican presidents to get a larger number of terrible judges confirmed too. But that's democracy—people who win elections should be able to govern. Democrats should be confident about their ability, over time, to triumph at the ballot box.

Comments

You are mistaken, the United States is not a democracy (where the majority can impose its will on the minority) but rather a republic were minority rights are protected.

In light of much of the legislation that the Republicans have been supporting or fighting since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, just what minority are you referring to whose rights need to be protected?

If you don't understand that the United States is a democracy and a republic, and why it is, then you should go on over to the Republic and North Korea and report back. We live under the American flag, not the Confederate flag. Deal with it.

The Democrats are becoming America's new Nazis and Obama their Hitler. America is becoming a dictatorship ruled by liberal loons.

I remember not to long ago when such outlandish rhetoric was dismissed as the rantings of the right-wing fringe. Now, it's a mainstream "conservative" talking point.

If that were true, traitors like you would be sitting in Guantanamo eating rat feet rather than having the freedom to spout your GIGO on the airwaves.

You've chosen an appropriate user ID.

Funny, when Republicons were ramrodding through the nominations of judges who's only goal is to dismantle the constitution, I don't recall anyone calling them "Nazis", or referring to W as "Hitler." Amazing what happens to you Tea Baggers when you don't like the outcome. Why don't you grow up!

@eric: By all means, you and your friends must continue your enchanted reverie of Hamiltonian oligarchy - we don't want to wake such beautiful dreamers. The rest of us will take up the slack and deal with the dull inescapable everyday reality that the United States is a democracy, has been imperfectly so since at least the 1820s, and now will be that much more so thanks to Harry Reid.

@ mbohna, wrong, we are a Democratic Republic, we have never been a democracy at any time in our history. Now for the Nuc Option; the repub party tried years ago when Obama was in the Senate to do away with the filibuster and he was against it along with every other Dem there. He argued, as a constitutional lawyer, that taking away the filibuster was an infringement on free speech. So is this another case of he was against it before he was for it? Dictator of the Senate Harry Reid has just set us back to British Rule with his self serving departure to the debate rules of the Senate. What a pity.

Harry Reid would have kept the filibuster had the GOP used it responsibly. Unfortunately, Mitch is a tantrum-driven child who clearly needs adult supervision. His inept leadership has led to the current situation.

The GOP used to be the enlightened party and the home of the statesmen. Now it is the home of inbred hillbillies and hate groups.

It seems that no matter what the Democrats do, it is the Republicans' fault. Website not working? The Republicans didn't support it enough. Nuclear Option that Senator Obama once railed against? It is a good thing now because the GOP will NEVER have a majority in the Senate.

I am a self-confessed right winger. I am a small government, fiscal conservative. That's right, kids. I am a member of the evil TEA Party. I didn't want the nuclear option used when the GOP was in power, and I don't want it now, but not for the reasons you may think. I am a fiscal conservative. Socially, I am small-government, which means that if you want to get married, go ahead. I don't care to whom, as long as you both (or more) are consenting adults. I don't think it is the government's place to tell people how to live. And I do not want an ultra-conservative on the SCOTUS bench, but that is what is going to happen now. I think that the author of this piece forgot that if the filibuster did not exist, Harriet Meyers would probably be a sitting judge.

We, collectively, will rue this day. Make no mistake. This is ugly. And all the people who are cheering this now are going to be screaming in the future about how the Republican majority is squashing the rights of the minority Democrats. Politics, like much in life, is cyclical. And what comes around, goes around. For all the people saying, "the GOP brought this upon themselves," you just keep saying that to yourself if it will help you sleep better. The Democrats have, once again, forsaken the long-term for feeling good about the now. Much like overspending the budget, at some point in the future, it is going to turn around and bite us, collectively, on the rear-end. And if you think that Washington had abandoned the spirit of bipartisan co-operation before, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Two things:
1) Eric, you have bought into the media tripe of "Bitter-Clingers" and "Rednecks" hook, line and sinker. It is a load of crap. There are many of us who are enlightened, just like there are many of you who are self-centered elitist snobs who couldn't find their ass with a map, two hands and a funnel. Don't believe it.

2) The Democrat idea of "responsible use of the filibuster" is for the GOP is to never use it at all. No one on the left had a problem with it when they were using it to block the GOP. It was there for a reason. But reason has left the building, and Washington DC, altogether.

Ahh, true fiscal conservatives. Never a peep when Reagan, Bush 41 and 43 one after the other run up record debts...

Then the black guy gets into office and, and...

SOSHALISM!!!!!!

When Mitch McConnell publicly stated that “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” it became obvious that the Republican Party had no interest in governing this country. Regardless of what actually needed to be done to make things better for the American citizen, the GOP was going to ignore that in its quest to prevent the President's reelection.

Additionally, when Republicans such as Richard Mourdock publicly state that "...bipartisanship becomes having Democrats come our way," it appears that the GOP position is "our way or the highway."

If you read the US Constitution, you will find no mention of the filibuster, or the Senate having to get 60 votes in order to do anything. What you will find is the concept of majority rule. A reality of majority rule is that the majority rules. If Republicans are the majority, they rule. If Democrats are the majority, they rule. That's how it works.

There really is no responsible use of the filibuster, as it is no more than a ploy to allow a few disgruntled people to ride roughshod over the desires of the majority. Face it - Romney lost, Obama won. Deal with it.

"Now it is the home of inbred hillbillies..."

Now you're insulting inbred hillbillies.

If you don't understand why we are a democracy (and a republic), than you should take a trip over to the Republic of North Korea and report back. We live under the American flag, not the Confederate flag. Deal with it.

I find it fascinating that a well educated Assistant Professor of Political Science would not know the history of Democrat's use of the filibuster against President Bush's judicial nominees. I would recommend the author run a quick google search on Miguel Estrada. Despite having clear majority support in the Senate Mr. Estrada was sucessfully kept off the very same court in question here. This filibuster "arms race" began with the Democrats and was escalated by the Republicans. Blaming this situation on a single party is rank partisianship and a denial of historical fact. This action will be the effective end of the filibuster in the Senate for better or worst. Any person of sound mind certainly realizes that the next time a filibuster is used on legislation by either party on a crucial vote, the filibuster will be ended on legislation as well. In the end, I think both parties will suffer as a result of this change but time will tell.

You cite, correctly I'm sure, one example of a person who maybe should have been allowed to successfully passed cloture during the Bush administration. I would therefore recommend that you run more than a quick google (or Bing, if you are so inclined) for the number of highly qualified executive and judicial nominees just during the Obama administration who have been blocked because of the Republican intransigence to Obama. You could possibly start by viewing the video of Senator Graham still insisting that he would block all of Obama's judicial nominees despite the fact that the most of Bengazi incident he was basing his anger on turned out to be a fabrication.

Why do you assume he's well-educated?

With all the screaming about how the parties cannot work together, you would think that absolutely no one would favor this. If you thought partisanship was bad before, look out. Every 4-8 years we will get wild swings in policy, regulations, and the courts.
I am a conservative. I was against the idea when the GOP considered it during bush’s term. The GOP, as much as they wanted to do it, knew it was bad for government and for minority interests. Biden, Obama, Feinstein, and yes, Sir Harry, all gave passionate pleas at that time to keep the filibuster intact. Shows how hypocritical they are.

Hypocritical is as hypocritical does (to paraphrase someone of better literary talents). I seem to recall a then Majority McConnell saying that the President's nominees deserve an up or down vote based on their qualifications, not political considerations. The Democrats unfortunately(and now obviously foolishly) complied and it resulted in numerous far-right leaning judges, pro-Big Business "regulators" and Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alito. Care to comment on that?

Most excellent plan. Now Republican can overturn Roe and Obamacare with simple majorities. Perhaps sanity will finally arrive in 2016.

Uhm, only the Supreme Court can "overturn" a Supreme Court decision. Roe v. Wade is a Supreme Court Decision. Congress and the

And Obamacare cannot be overturned by only the Senate. See, Congress passes a law, and then it goes to the President, who can either veto it or simply not sign it. Either way, it would take 2/3 of the House and Senate to ove-rride the President. 2/3, FYI, is not a simple majority.

In short, no, Republicans cannot overturn either with a simple majority. The would need the President in either case.

Hardly, considering Republicans will lose both House and seats in the Senate in 2014, and 2016.

The Democrats really didn't have a choice - we all know the next time we let our guard down and republicans rule the Senate, they would have no qualms about making changes such as this. Then, the Democrats will be attacked for not taking advantage when they had the chance. Look, I hate the idea that the other side will eventually be in control, but it's ludicrous to even think they will have any restraint given the tea party and religious cancer that seems to overtaken them.

I think it will be interesting to see if, in Feb 2015, the Republicans take the Senate and use Mr. Reid's tactics against him, will Senate Dem's be OK with Republicans changing the Rules of Impeachment to a bare majority?

If you would do a little research, you will find that the rules of Presidential impeachment are imbedded in the U.S. Constitution and cannot be changed by a simple (minded?) vote in the Senate. You should stop using silly fear-mongering to support your anger at this unfortunate but necessary incident brought on by the continuous absurd Republican obstruction to anything Democratic or Obama related.

They can't have it both ways. And as the Prospect's Paul Waldman explains, one would have to be remarkably naive to think that Republicans wouldn't have done exactly the same thing if they were in the same position.

Read Sen. Biden's reproach of this power grab when it was a Republican Senate, and they did not change the rules.

That is just it. They did not change the rules. Even though the GOP felt that the Democrats were being obstructionalists, they kept the rule. And for good reason; someday the shoe will be on the other foot.

With Obamacare as bad as it is, the foot changing may be sooner than later. Or is there another reason why they pushed back the business exemption by a month to make sure that it happens after the mid-terms...

I don't think you read the reality well. Republicans will lose in 2014 and 2016, as a continuation of purging the Congress of radical lunatics.

Nice try. First, the Dems did not obstruct federal judicial appointments.

Second, guess what percentage of the the number of Republican obstructions since Obama took office with in the entire history of the US Senate.

About half. Half in four years, compared to the rest of our history.

The facts are as simple as their implications: the Dems changed the rules of the Senate because the 108 year old rule was being abused by the Republicans.

guess how many important laws in the entire history of the USA have been passed by party line before Jan 2009?

Detroit was and the perfect example of a DEM city that has fallen flat on its face due to their belief they have the RIGHT to live off OTHER peoples $ / wealth / SWEAT just because they exist as they are in "bankruptcy."
New York with its new Mayor will start its FALL into "bankruptcy."
California already is in "bankruptcy." Jerry Brown is in total denial.
Chicago is also starting its FALL into "bankruptcy."
Chicago Again Hit With Triple Debt Downgrade -
http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2013/11/19/chicago-again-hit-triple-debt-downgrade
All of these entities are run by Dems and libs and tried o make their own Nirvana. There are more.
Somebody ELSE has gotta pay their way is always forgotten.
Soon other peoples $ will NOT be there. Obama care taxes WILL suck it all up from the makers or payers to pay for the takers. What happens when the $ runs out and the takers get mad?

Oh goodie, lets play the list game. Top ten poorest states based on median income, unemployment rate and poverty rate:

1. Mississippi 6. Montana
2. Arkansas 7. South Carolina
3. Tennessee 8. Kentucky
4. West Virginia 9. Alabama
5. Louisiana 10. North Carolina

Hardly bastions of the Democratic party.

"Nevada continued to have the nation's highest unemployment rate, at 9.3 percent. That is down from 9.4 percent in September. The states with the next highest rates were Rhode Island, at 9.2 percent; Michigan, 9 percent; Illinois, 8.9 percent; and California, 8.7 percent."

I thought that politicians are dirty in moral sense people, but seems to me that political "science" professors are much worse than politicians, much dirtier...
the article is a great sample of unscientific and non-critical thinking. I'm sorry for students of mr. Lemieux :(

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