Defusing the Nuclear Option
Kevin Drum reacts to Trent Lott’s call for eliminating the filibuster option for judicial appointments–which has somehow come to be dubbed “the nuclear option”–with a little history lesson involving shenanigans Orrin Hatch and the Republicans have played with senatorial courtesy.
Bottom line: Yes, Democrats are filibustering some of George Bush’s judges, but they’re doing it only because Republicans have relentlessly dismantled all the avenues of dissent they themselves took advantage of back when Democrats controlled the Senate. There’s no principle involved in this, just a raw exercise of power.
Remember that the next time you hear one of them whining about the “unprecedented” use of the filibuster by Democrats. It wouldn’t have come to this in the first place if it weren’t for the unprecedented destruction of senatorial tradition ruthlessly engineered by Senate Republicans over the past six years.
One can certainly play the “well, they started it” game from either side. Republicans correctly point out that the Democrats used some rather sleazy tactics to derail the confirmation of Robert Bork, who all but the most ideological Democrats will acknowledge was superbly qualified. Democrats correctly counter that the Republicans have been just as bad, if not worse, when they’ve been in power.
At some point, the escalation has to stop and some level of comity restored. This strikes me as the perfect time. It’s not just because my guys are in power. The GOP has a huge majority of 55 seats to 44/45 for the Democrats (technically, Jim Jeffords is an “Independent” but he votes with the Democrats when it counts). Given that they’re likely to get their way on most issues anyway–and that as many as six Republicans would probably join with the Democrats in the case of an incredibly controversial nominee–why not set in place rules that ensure that presidential nominees are accorded an up or down vote? Not only is it quite arguably what the Constitution demands but it’s a good rule. Indeed, the constant threat of a filibuster for any but the most lukewarm nominees strikes me as much more “nuclear” than this.
If the Democrats regain control of the Senate at some point in the future–and history says they will–then this will prevent the Republicans from using the filibuster, too. In the near term, at very little practical cost in political power, the Democrats help restore a more collegial working relationship in the Senate by bringing an end to a vicious cycle of retaliation that’s been ongoing for nearly two decades. It’s about time.