Harry’s Gambit

ReidSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV):  Floor Statement 11/21/2013 –

In the history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. Half of them have occurred during the Obama Administration – during the last four and a half years. These nominees deserve at least an up-or-down vote.”

“This gridlock has consequences. Terrible consequences. It is not only bad for President Obama and bad for the United States Senate; it’s bad for our country. It is bad for our national security and for our economic security.”

“Today the important distinction is not between Democrats and Republicans. It is between those who are willing to help break the gridlock in Washington and those who defend the status quo… This change to the rules regarding presidential nominees will apply equally to both parties. When Republicans are in power, these changes will apply to them as well.  That’s simple fairness. And it’s something both sides should be willing to live with to make Washington work again.”  (emphasis added)

The money quote is in the first line.   The motivation comes in the press release wherein Senator Reid states the obvious:

“It is a troubling trend that Republicans are willing to block executive branch nominees even when they have no objection to the qualifications of the nominee. Instead, they block qualified executive branch nominees to circumvent the legislative process. They block qualified executive branch nominees to force wholesale changes to laws. They block qualified executive branch nominees to restructure entire executive branch departments. And they block qualified judicial nominees because they don’t want President Obama to appoint any judges to certain courts.”  (emphasis added)

In short, nominees are being stymied for reasons which are superfluous to the functioning of our courts or to the operation of our executive branch — it’s pure politics.   Reid goes on to explain in a trip down memory lane:

“At the beginning of this Congress, the Republican Leader pledged that, quote, “this Congress should be more bipartisan than the last Congress.” We’re told in scripture that, “When a man makes a vow… he must not break his word.” Numbers 30-2. In January, Republicans promised to work with the majority to process nominations… in a timely manner by unanimous consent, except in extraordinary circumstances.

“Exactly three weeks later, Republicans mounted a first-in-history filibuster of a highly qualified nominee for Secretary of Defense. Despite being a former Republican Senator and a decorated war hero, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s nomination was pending in the Senate for a record 34 days, more than three times the previous average. Remember, our country was at war. Republicans have blocked executive branch nominees like Secretary Hagel not because they object to the qualifications of the nominee, but simply because they seek to undermine the very government in which they were elected to serve.”

And so it began… it didn’t take the Republican minority a full month to renege on their promise to deal with the backlog of civilian nominees.   Now what?

Oh, wail the Washington Chatterati, this action to reduce the filibusters of judicial and executive will come to grief.  The acrimony will increase!  Uh, if it took the GOP only three weeks to back off from their initial promise not to filibuster qualified nominees, the level of acrimony has already hit the top of the scale.  Not to mention the Republican precipitated Government Shutdown which was not exactly an outstanding example of cooperation and good will.

Not sure if the Gridlock assertion is real?  The full list of civilian nominations in committee is located here.  The list of judicial nominations for the district and circuit courts is available here.  It doesn’t take much imagination to look at the lists and conclude that if the Republican minority in the Senate were to filibuster each and every nominee there would continue to be serious backlogs in our courts for the foreseeable future.   Now, consider the “acrimony factor.”

If the present system, allowing the filibuster of every civilian (including judicial) nominee, were to continue in the Senate, and if the Republicans regained the control of the Senate, then it isn’t inconceivable that the Democratic minority would revert to the same tactics as the GOP in the 113th Congress.  Imagine the judicial system if this were to continue through subsequent Congresses?

The only people who would be served by a completely dysfunctional judiciary are those who are already fulminating about the Evil Government taking their unspecified “freedoms,” the modern anarchists.

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