In the wake of innumerable warnings of disaster and accusations of bad faith, Democrats and Republicans did something unusual today: they came to agreement on how to do business, at least for a while. The topic was the filibuster, which used to be something the minority party used in extraordinary circumstances, but in the hands of Republicans has become a hurdle every single substantial piece of legislation and nominee has to jump. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid basically got fed up and told Republicans that if they didn't allow votes on three of President Obama's languishing nominees—Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Thomas Perez to be Secretary of Labor, and Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency—then he would move to change Senate rules and end the filibuster for executive branch nominations entirely. And in the end, the Republicans blinked, agreeing to a deal in which the filibuster rules would stay, the three nominees would get votes, and—apparently for little reason other than giving Republicans a scalp they could parade before their supporters—two recess-appointed members of the National Labor Relations Board would be removed and replaced by new members.
Of the three major things the Senate considers—legislation, judicial nominees, and executive branch nominees—the latter are without doubt the group that should almost never be subject to a filibuster. Judges are appointed for life, and legislation can have far-reaching consequences, but we ought to at least be able to agree that a president should be able to choose the people who serve in his administration. It might happen that a nominee is so controversial, unqualified, or problematic that he or she would fail a majority vote (it happened with John Tower, whose nomination was rejected by a majority of the Senate in 1989 over questions of whether he was a reckless alcoholic). But otherwise, the president shouldn't require support from the opposition party for his own team. Furthermore, the fact that there are over 1,000 executive branch positions that require Senate confirmation is somewhere between absurd and insane.
We'll be happy to say the same when there's a Republican in the White House. When the next Republican president comes along, he or she is going to choose people liberals don't particularly like to fill out cabinet and sub-cabinet positions. Those people will be carrying out policies we find misconceived, wrong-headed, and even disastrous. But that's what happens when the other side wins an election: they get to govern for a while. It can be painful if you're on the short end, but it's how democracy works. Maybe the Republicans could take this opportunity to remind themselves.
SO THEY SAY
“These setbacks weren’t the product of a conspiracy. They didn’t need to be. While conspiracies are the work of small cabals of identifiable villains, social backlash is the product of a broad movement of like-minded individuals. For this reason, it would be difficult to view today’s disproportionate black unemployment and the court’s dismantling of the Voting Rights Act as contradictions in the Obama era. By the most objective perspective, they’re exactly what should have been expected."
DAILY MEME: ARAB SUMMER
- Things continue to grow messy in the Middle East. Seven people are dead in Cairo after protests that stretched from last night into this morning.
- The unrest in Egypt's capital city is bubbling over into the Sinai Peninsula.
- Gas prices in the U.S. are starting to climb in response to worries abroad.
- The contours of the conflict in Syria remain complex and unsolvable, and university students trekking between there and Israel are afraid for their lives.
- Bombs blast frequently in Lebanon.
- A bombing in Iraq killed 38 on Sunday. This year has been the deadliest for the country since 2008. More than 2,800 people have died since April.
- Talks between the U.S. and the Taliban in Afghanistan have been fractious and slow.
- As The Economist notes, "Faleh Abdel Jabbar, an Iraqi sociologist, gives warning that for now in most Arab countries 'all the elements that theory says should build democracy are absent, and all those that should prevent it are present.' The middle classes are weak, clannishness prevails, and oil-soaked states see no need for consent from citizens they do not need to tax. That equation is changing, but it will take time."
- John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East for the sixth time this year, as he tries once again to push forward peace talks in Israel, as well as address the conflicts in Syria and Egypt.
WHAT WE'RE WRITING
- Fights over filibusters are sure to continue. Jonathan Bernstein writes about three myths surrounding what is already a confusing process.
- Republicans have altered the filibuster into a vehicle for the minority to control the Senate. Harold Meyerson writes about what the Democrats' beef is all about.
WHAT WE'RE READING
- Southern juries always have to deliberate not only the case at hand, but thewhispers of history—especially when they can't outperform decisions past.
- Mark Leibovich on the crazy power wielded by one Tammay Haddad.
- One Guantanamo detainee is ready to plead guilty and let justice fall where it may, but the Pentagon won't charge him.
- North Carolina continues to strip down the state's government—much to the dismay of residents and the protesters frequenting the capital each Monday.
- The GOP still hasn't figured out that the country ain't buying what they're selling. John Cassidy explains why they need one more big electoral loss to knock some sense into them.
- It's all been downhill since 1978.
- Bloomberg Businessweek explains why "joint filing is a dinosaur."
- Mike Bloomberg's legacy on labor leaves ... much to be desired.
- How do you fast for Ramadan in places where the sun doesn't set?
POLL OF THE DAY
Black voters have come out in force for the two formerly disgraced politicians, giving Spitzer and Weiner the lead in the Democratic primaries for comptroller and mayor of New York City, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. Former New York Governor Spitzer has a 48-33 percent overall lead over Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and a 61-26 lead among black voters. Weiner’s lead is just three percent over former mayoral favorite Christine Quinn, but his margin over her among African Americans is 31-16 percent.