Democrats — and the American people — will regret their vote to end the Senate filibuster rule for confirming judges and most other presidential nominees.
The arrogant move will exacerbate the bitter partisanship that makes Congress seem more a bickering playpen. It will muffle the voice of the minority.
Under the filibuster rule, a supermajority of 60 votes were needed to approve appointments, a requirement that guarded against appointees too extreme to be accepted by the minority party.
Under the change orchestrated by Senate President Harry Reid, a simple majority vote now will be sufficient, meaning the majority party can ram through appointments without any regard for opponents’ concerns.
This may now please Democrats, who hold the White House and the Senate majority, but they will be virtually impotent when Republicans retake the balance of power.
The Democrats had hardly been adverse to using the filibuster strategy during Republican administrations, blocking, for instance, President George W. Bush’s appointment of John Bolton as ambassador to the U.N.
Republicans, to be sure, are not blameless. They did utilize the filibuster far more frequently than it had ever been used before, and Democrats claimed they were trying to nullify the results of the election. GOP senators saw it as the only way to slow an administration’s effort to stack the courts and government with liberal activists.
It is notable that most filibustered nominees have been eventually confirmed, but the GOP tactics did result in a backlog of nominees. According to The New York Times, 59 executive branch nominees and 17 judiciary nominees await confirmation.
The GOP’s rejection in the past few weeks of three Obama appointees to U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, one of the most powerful appellate courts in the nation, infuriated Obama, Reid and the Democrats and led to the use of the “nuclear option,” changing a policy established in 1975. Prior to that it took a vote of two-thirds of the Senate to cut off debate on a nominee. Republicans argued the court already had eight sitting judges with a manageable workload and there is no need for three more. But they also knew additional Obama appointees would throw the balance of the court to liberals.
Nobody’s pure in this debate, but the Democrats’ vote means that whoever is in power — whether liberal or conservative — can run roughshod over any objections.
The power play shreds any hope for more collegiality and thoughtful discourse in Washington.
Obama praised the Democrats’ vote, but he should have remembered his 2005 argument in the Senate against a nuclear option proposal by the GOP:
“ ... if the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who ask us to be their voice, I fear the partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That does not serve anybody’s best interest, and it certainly is not what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind.”
The drastic Senate vote may be good for the Obama administration. It is not good for democracy.