GOP opposition to cabinet nominees makes the case for filibuster reform

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

I could not agree more with Jamelle Bouie: If Republicans want to choose the Cabinet, they should win an election. This unprecedented attempt by a defeated political party to obstruct the cabinet nominations of a victorious president is an abuse of process.

Unless a nominee is demonstrably unqualified for the job or has a record of political corruption or scandal in his or her background that would be disqualifying, the president is entitled to choose whom he wants to serve in his cabinet.

Historically, the Senate has given the White House wide leeway in how it
staffs its administration. Barring extraordinary circumstances, cabinet
nominations are almost always confirmed, as they should be — the
chamber’s role is to give advice and consent, not set policy for the administration.

The Septegenarian Ninja Turtle, Mitch McConnell, is signaling that he intends to ramp up his unprecedented abuse of the Senate filibuster rules into obstruction of otherwise competent and qualified cabinet nominees to thwart the president whom he declared was his number one priority "to make a one term president." Sore losers do not get to relitigate their cause in perpetual political warfare.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been trying to work out a "compromise" with the Septegenarian Ninja Turtle on filibuster reform. This is a fool's errand. Any "compromise" would leave McConnell in a position to continue to obstruct at will. McConnell has rendered the Senate a dysfunctional chamber incapable of governing. This cannot be permitted to continue. We need to have a functioning government.

This unprecedented assault on cabinet nominees has brought clarity to the issue of filibuster reform. Steve Benen writes, Cabinet pushback and the case for filibuster reform:

Republicans killed Susan Rice's nomination before it even happened, based on nothing but misplaced spite. They started trying to crush
Jack Lew's nomination yesterday and Chuck Hagel's nomination last week.

And don't even get me started on Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) tantrum on John Brennan's CIA nomination.

There
is, however, an unintended consequence to all of this chest-thumping:
Republicans are making an excellent case for filibuster reform
, just as
Senate Democrats have to decide on how best to proceed. Jonathan
Bernstein had a good piece on this.

Political scientist Stephen Smith made a good point today:
Republican knee-jerk opposition to Barack Obama’s Cabinet picks may
well push reluctant Democrats to embrace stronger Senate reform. […]

[A]ll Republicans are doing by threatening to block nomination after
nomination is making it more likely that swing Democratic senators will
realize that the current rules just aren't working. Overall, filibuster
reform is badly needed, and there are some good ideas out there to solve
a fairly difficult problem. But on executive branch nominations, reform
is urgent, and easy.

When it comes to legislation, filibuster reform is far
less urgent — allowing Senate Democrats to pass bills that will quickly
die in a GOP-led House is unappealing. But when it comes to confirming
qualified nominees that Republicans oppose for nonsensical reasons,
filibuster reform starts to look increasingly important.

GOP
senators probably didn't intend to help make the case for procedural
changes, but they're helping make the reformers' case for them.

Any filibuster reform should remove most judicial appointments, executive department appointments, and cabinet officers from the 60 vote cloture rule — give them an up or down vote. The backlog of judicial appointments to the federal bench is a national disgrace. As are unfilled executive department heads, such as the ATF, because of Tea-Publican ideological opposition.

Sens. Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall have a filibuster reform plan that, while not a perfect solution, is far better than any compromise solution that Harry Reid could ever hope to work out with the malevolent Septegenarian Ninja Turtle. Senator Tom Harkin's filibuster proposal is both a reasonable and fair solution. Sen. Reid needs to seriously consider forgoing a do-nothing bipartisan compromise in favor of the so-called "nuclear option" (simple majority vote) that would restore some semblance of democracy to the Senate, and hopefiully restore the Senate to a functioning institution again.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent writes GOP spirals deeper and deeper into obstructionism:

Once upon a time, a norm existed that presidents had right to choose
the people they wanted to staff the executive branch. Once upon a time? I
mean — from the beginning of the republic right up to January 2009. Oh,
Senators could and did use the nomination to affect policy — both
individual Senators and, at times, the partisan opposition would demand
specific policy commitments before confirming nominees. 

But what’s happened since Barack Obama took office is far, far, off
the scale of any of that. And because it’s been accompanied by the use
of the filibuster — the sudden demand for a 60 vote Senate on executive
branch nominations — it’s entirely dysfunctional.

* * *

All this does build the case for Senate reform.
As I’ve been saying, there’s just no good reason not to change the
rules to have simple majority approval of executive branch nominees.

* * *

[T]he real problem isn’t Senate rules (as much as they should be changed);
it’s the Republican Party, busting through norms for the sake of making
it very difficult for the government to function well.
And alas,
although some have done a good job of describing this disease (such as Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein), no one yet has a cure.

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