Whether they’ll cop to it or not, Republicans are currently engaged in a filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Defense secretary.
Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma’s conservative senior senator, has attempted to place a hold on Hagel’s nomination. Lindsey Graham has indicated his willingness to do the same. Generally, such requests are granted as a courtesy by the majority leader, but Harry Reid has opted not to honor them in this case and has gone ahead and filed a cloture motion. Thus, 60 votes will be required for there to be a simple up/down vote on the nomination. As Jonathan Bernstein writes, there is no way to call this anything but a filibuster.
“What a shame,” Reid lamented after filing his motion on Wednesday. “That’s the way it is.”
Reid may simply have been speaking as a White House ally there, but he’s also a Senate institutionalist, one who - to the consternation of many progressives activists - balked at an effort last month to water down the chamber’s filibuster rules. Reid clearly believes in the unique individual prerogatives that the Senate grants its members and is loath to break with tradition and create new procedural rules and precedents - especially if they might come back to bite his party the next time it’s in the minority. From an institutionalist’s standpoint, what’s happening now with the Hagel nomination is very troubling.
Simply put, we’re in uncharted territory. Look at it this way: Hagel is on course to be the first Pentagon nominee and only the third Cabinet nominee ever to face a 60-vote requirement for confirmation. But even that understates it, because the other two - C. William Verity and Dirk Kempthorne - weren’t up against serious filibusters.
This is way overdue, people are extremely tired of the petit tyrants in the GOP minority blocking everything.
On the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell railed against his counterpart, Harry Reid, and a ‘cohort of short-sighted Senate sophomores,’ for proposing to modify the Senate’s filibuster rules on the first day of the 113th Congress to limit the extent to which the minority can gum up legislative business.
‘Does [Reid] believe that on the day he finds himself in the minority once again that he should no longer be heard?’ McConnell asked, ‘Or does he think that Democrats will remain in the majority from now until the end of time?’
In a Monday interview, one of the supposedly short-sighted sophomores said, contra McConnell, the reforms Democrats are proposing could in theory go much farther, but are being designed with future power shifts in mind.
‘The point I would make is that I’ve said from the outset is that a test of a good proposal is whether or not you could live with serving under it in the minority,’ said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). ‘That’s why the talking filibuster is the right way to go. McConnell has broken the social contract. His team, under his leadership, uses it constantly and silently, out of public sight. Really the proposal I put forward restores the basic elements that existed in the past, and I’m quite happy to live under that structure as a minority. … [That] has been part of every conversation I’ve had with colleagues. … If we’re in the minority and we’re blocking something, we should be accountable to the public.’
Changes to the Senate rules are rare, typically minor, and usually require 67 votes be implemented. But Democrats can avail themselves of a complicated, arcane procedure in January and amend the rules as they choose with an easier 50-plus-one majority.
The changes Democrats are considering wouldn’t eliminate the filibuster, and would thus preserve the Senate minority’s enormous power over legislative affairs. But the new rules, if adopted, would make it harder — possibly significantly harder — for the minority to successfully block legislation than it currently is.