John Bryson Filibuster: Just Because

44 Republican Senators have already pledged to filibuster John Bryson's nomination as Commerce secretary.

Matt Yglesias passes on news that 44 Republican Senators have already pledged to filibuster John Bryson’s nomination as Commerce secretary. Why, you might ask?

President Obama with Commerce Secretary designee John Bryson at the White House on Tuesday.

President Obama nominated a noted utility executive, John Bryson, to be the next Commerce secretary on Tuesday, noting his “decades of experience” promoting clean energy, but Republican senators have vowed to block the nomination until the president submits a trio of trade pacts for ratification.

While Bryson’s record is unlikely to stir opposition, 44 Republican senators have vowed to block the nomination of a Commerce secretary—or any trade-related post—until Obama submits for ratification trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. That’s more than enough votes to sustain a filibuster should Senate Republicans choose to go that route. The White House has declined to submit the treaties without reauthorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance, an expired program to retrain workers displaced by such deals, leading to what appears to be a standoff.

“Until the President submits [the trade] agreements to Congress for approval and commits to signing implementing legislation into law, we will use all the tools at our disposal to force action, including withholding support for any nominee for Commerce Secretary and any trade-related nominees,” the GOP senators said in a March 14 letter.

Now, I’m not sure I’d heard of John Bryson before this afternoon and don’t care one whit whether he gets to become Commerce secretary. For that matter, I’m not absolutely sure we need a Department of Commerce. But, seriously, this is just weak.

The filibuster is an extraconstitutional tool but it’s one that, properly used, can further the aims of the Framers in making it hard for slim, temporary majorities to ram through genuninely controversial measures. As a general rule, I don’t think it’s reasonable to use it at all on confirmations, especially of members of a president’s cabinet, since the Constitution is clear on how many votes it takes to confirm a nominee–a bare majority–and this sidesteps it. But, at very least, it ought to be done over a principled objection to the nominee himself rather than to secure leverage over some tangentially related matter.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Quick Takes, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Southern Hoosier says:

    Obama taps environmentalist Bryson to head Commerce

    http://goo.gl/Rltiq
    Somehow I can’t see an environmentalist promoting business.

  2. PD Shaw says:

    it ought to be done over a principled objection to the nominee himself rather than to secure leverage over some tangentially related matter.

    In a case like that, the test for me would be whether the President is legally obligated to perform the “tangentially related matter.” It’s not unheard of for Presidents to drag their feat in complying with some law. In those instances, I think Congress should feel free to exert consequences, however unrelated.

    I don’t know enough about the treaties to know if that’s the case here.

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    To me this looks like sound politics by the Senate’s GOP caucus.

    Those 3 free trade pacts are worth a lot more than this Bryson character. Why not condition his nomination on getting those agreements in place? After all, quid pro quo is the sine qua non of effective politicking and if Rambobama wants some airheaded enviro advocate to lead Commerce he should give something up in return, no?

  4. James Joyner says:

    @PD: I’m not sure there’s any legal obligation to submit treaties to Congress. Presidents have unilateral power to negotiate them. The Senate’s only role is to advise and consent.

  5. Boyd says:

    James, I think you have an unreasonably high expectation of integrity from politicians.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    James, that sounds like the normal case. I just don’t know if there is some legislation out there that essentially says that Congress is passing some legislation with the expectation that the President shall negotiate a treaty with said countries and will submit the treaty thereafter to Congress.

    I’m obviously talking hypothetical; if I have a few minutes I’ll google.

  7. lunaticllama says:

    At Tsar Nicholson, actually no “if Rambobama wants some airheaded enviro advocate to lead Commerce he should give something up in return.”

    Why should he have to give up anything to staff his administration? These aren’t Article III judges who are appointed for life; they are merely staff to work directly under Obama. So essentially, under your view, Congress should demand concessions from Presidents whenever they are want to hire some staff. Weird worldview. And I thought Republicans wanted the government to be more like business (or was that just more nonsense that has no connection to their governing agenda?)

    Also: the whole reason these treaties are in limbo is Obama wants reauthorization of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program before he signs these treaties. Republicans refuse to pass the program, because it might help the middle class or slightly stop the redistribution of wealth from the masses to the top 1% or something.

  8. James Joyner says:

    While I hesitate to take sides with anyone called lunaticllama, it’s my general sense that presidents ought to get their non-SCOTUS nominees as a matter of course unless they’re truly odious or unqualified.

    @boyd: It does seem like it from time to time.

  9. anjin-san says:

    But, seriously, this is just weak.

    Ah. I see you have met the Republican party. I have to point out that you are not obliged to say for the festivities. You can always move on – I know another party that would probably welcome you.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    Some Republicans and conservatives are salivating over the GOP’s chances of retaking the Senate next year…they should be careful what they wish for, because if they do, the Democrats will be able to have all the fun the GOP has had being in the minority…

  11. Southern Hoosier says:

    James Joyner says:
    Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 18:11

    While I hesitate to take sides with anyone called lunaticllama, it’s my general sense that presidents ought to get their non-SCOTUS nominees as a matter of course unless they’re truly odious or unqualified.

    You mean like these?

    Four Radicals Renominated to Federal Judgeships
    John J. “Jack” O’Connell, who gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to liberal politicians. O’Connell used $2.5 million in state-settlement money to pay off a creditor, in an unethical diversion of state funds.

    Edward Chen, a fervent advocate of racial preferences who unsuccessfully challenged a provision of the California Constitution banning racial discrimination and preferences.

    Goodwin Liu was also renominated. As lawyer Ted Frank noted in the Washington Examiner, Liu once claimed that racial quotas are not merely permitted, but constitutionally “required.”

    Louis Butler, who was so extreme that he was removed from the Wisconsin Supreme Court by voters in 2008 (the first time the state’s voters had removed a Justice since 1967). Butler’s empathy for criminals was summed up by his nickname, Loophole Louis.

    A week earlier, he (Obama) made six controversial recess appointments. Those sharply partisan and ideological acts contradict his recent rhetoric about the need for “bipartisanship.”

    http://goo.gl/1dLVh

  12. Mia Foster says:

    Chicago politician¬s understand the business communitie¬s very well and organise them very well. Wall Street Finance, Energy (most), Insurance, Mega-hospi¬tals. Republican¬s are just mad because if they have to explain what Obama and the industries are doing, they will thereby admit their own religious experience for “business” is weak and near fraudulent¬.

  13. Carrie says:

    You should all be very concerned that Obama has nominated someone that is Pro Cap & Tax…… yes these corrupt folks want to tax us for using anything deemed to create warmth. This is the ultimate scheme and rip off since the dishonest moves that put the private bank the Fed in power of our money. This guy should be denied an appointment…..but it is just games as usual in DC. American’s can go back to their TV’s and remain ignorant!