Hypocrisy Abounds As Senate Teeters Again On Nuclear Brink

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REUTERS / REUTERS

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) addresses reporters after the weekly Democratic caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTX110PN

Batten the hatches, open the history books and study up on parliamentary procedure. The marbled halls of the Russell, Dirksen and Hart Senate office buildings are once again filled with apocalyptic mutterings. The country must be put on notice! Tradition is at stake! The end is nigh! The Senate is about to go nuclear!

Or it may go nuclear. Or there are meetings planned to discuss the possibility of going nuclear. Or this is all just another fake controversy to create another fake crises to force the U.S. Senate to do the sort of stuff that it should be doing already, like talking across party lines and striking compromises that fill the government with enough people to actually run things.

Sigh.

First, let’s back up a little bit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to meet Thursday with his fellow Democrats to discuss taking extraordinary measures—commonly called the “Nuclear Option”—that would do away with filibusters of some of the President’s nominees facing Senate confirmation. This would mean that for certain people, like Cabinet officials, a minority of senators would no longer be able to block up-or-down votes by symbolically saying they want to debate indefinitely.

That is a big deal, because for several generations there has been a clear precedent in the Senate: If you want to call a contentious vote, you need to gather together 60 senators to vote for that vote. If you can’t muster 60, then the 40 or so who object can prevent the majority from calling a vote. In effect, the Senate has long operated in exactly the way fourth graders are taught democracies don’t work: The minority can rule.

Once upon a time, this was only occasionally a problem, since only extraordinarily controversial bills, like the Civil Rights Act, ever faced a filibuster. But that has changed in recent decades. Now routine measures, like presidential nominees, face filibuster in the Senate. And it keeps getting worse. Democrats filibustered an extraordinary number of George W. Bush‘s judicial nominees, and Republicans have mostly returned the favor, throwing in a bunch of cabinet level jobs as well, including the recently appointed post of Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

So Reid is furious about this, in part because President Obama is furious, and Unions are furious, and major Democratic donors are furious. Or at least his aides and advisors say Reid is furious about this. Because the tricky thing with these sorts high-stakes, front-page, Senate standoffs is that little is ever what it seems to be.

Back in 2005, when Democrats were in the minority blocking nominees with filibusters, Republicans were furious, Karl Rove was furious, and they all threatened to evoke the nuclear option. But they apparently never meant it, because now that Republicans are in the minority, they are just fine doing what they once called “unconstitutional.”

Reid also finds himself twisted in knots. He has devoted his entire life to Senate, and he believes deeply in its rare role as a collaborative, slow-moving body, where “the Minority has a voice and the ability to check the power of the Majority.” Just eight years ago, on May 22, 2005, Reid said the following words about a Republican attempt to evoke the nuclear option with respect to judicial nominees, “That contempt for the rule of law and the law of rules will set a new precedent – an illegal precedent – that will always remain on the pages of Senate history – a precedent that will thrust us toward totally eliminating the filibuster in all Senate proceedings, a precedent that will eliminate the essential deliberative nature of the Senate – which was designed by the Founding Fathers to make it a counterbalance for the passions embodied in the House of Representatives.”

Two days earlier, he said on the Senate floor, “The duties of the United States Senate are set forth in the Constitution of the United States. Nowhere in that document does it say the Senate has a duty to give presidential nominees “an up-or-down vote.”

Three days before that, before the C-Span cameras, he said, “The Senate in which I have spent the last 20 years of my life is a body in which the rules are sacrosanct. We may choose to amend the rules by two-thirds vote. We may enter into unanimous consent to waive the rules. But never before in the history of the Senate has a partisan majority sought to break the rules in order to achieve momentary political advantage.”

Jim Manley, a former aide to Reid who stood by the leader during those dark days of 2005, describes his old boss this way, “He loves the Senate as much as he loves his wife, and that’s a lot.” Reid also loves history. If you get him in the right mood, he can tell you chapter and verse about how just about every plot of land on the Las Vegas strip was developed. Back in 2003, he was so upset about the Republican plan to go nuclear that he seized the Senate floor for nine hours to read from his own book about the history of his hometown, Searchlight, Nev., called “The Camp That Didn’t Fail.”

So is Reid now willing to undo that legacy, to transform fundamentally the nature of the body he has given his life to? Again, people close to him say yes. “There is complete and utter hypocrisy on both sides, but, look, circumstances have changed since 2005,” said one Senate leadership aide on Wednesday.

Time will tell if this is true. Reid is planning a series of test votes next week on Obama’s nominees, and the fight will likely escalate into the summer. But if history is any guide, a more likely outcome is that Reid’s podium pounding over the nuclear option is little more than another act of hostage taking, which is pretty much the only way members of Congress can get anything done these days. In 2005, after Republicans threatened to go nuclear and unilaterally rewrite Senate rules, a group of moderate Senators came together to force a compromise that got most, but not all, of George W. Bush’s judicial nominees on the bench. This would not have happened without Republicans holding a gun to the head of Senate tradition. Now Reid is holding the gun, threatening to kill a part of the thing he loves most in the world.

The problem with hostage taking is that the threat of harm has to be credible for any ransom to be extracted. And so we will wait and watch, as one of the Senate’s great living leaders, threatens his own legacy of upholding the Senate’s ways, no doubt praying that he never has to make the fateful decision to pull the trigger.

60 comments
bobcn
bobcn

Michael,

Reid and McConnell made an agreement earlier this year to avoid this impasse.  Although just about everyone with a pulse knew that McConnell couldn't be trusted to honor his word, Reid agreed to it.  Now Reid is ready to change the filibuster rules and points out that McConnell broke his promise.  You've called hypocrisy on Reid for threatening to change the status quo.  Are you ignorant of the fact that Reid has legitimate reasons for changing the rules, or is it just to inconvenient for you to even mention McConnell's name once in your article about hypocrisy, or mention the agreement McConnell has renegied on?

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

Upon reading this nonsense, am I the only one who's reminded of third grade?  Certainly, it's dressed a little better, but it's still playground "Yeah, you are!" "Nuh-uh!"

ahandout
ahandout

Harry Reid is a corrupt little politician.  He shouldn't be in charge of anything except Cowboy Poetry.

Sherm
Sherm

The filibuster is good because:  if you are a U.S. senator and want to pass a law that all Americans must follow, you should have to get at least 60 other senators to sign on.

wrathbrow
wrathbrow

From wikipedia, Filibuster: sometimes referred to as talking out a bill, and characterized as a form of obstruction in a legislature or other decision-making body.

If a child did a similar thing to disrupt a classroom they would be taken out of that classroom. If an adult did that at work, they might loose their job. But in the political system it is another tool/game to stall things from being decided. 

It needs to end, and do does the concept of unrelated bills as attachments to other laws. If something can't pass on it's own merit, then it does not pass. That might also give them more time to work on coming to agreement on big issues in a more timely manner.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

Speaking of hypocrisy abounding...

 "Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, reaffirmed Tuesday that he will attempt to prevent allowing a confirmation vote on Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee to be EPA administrator, because he is unhappy that the agency has not moved quickly enough on a levee project in his state.

President Obama nominated McCarthy more than four months ago to head the Environmental Protection Agency — a cabinet-level position. Though the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee endorsed her nomination in May, Blunt announced that he would place a “hold” on her confirmation.

Blunt reiterated yesterday that he will continue that hold until he gets his way on an unrelated topic. Rather than objecting to McCarthy’s qualifications, ideology, or temperament, the Missouri Republican has been candid that she is making her confirmation his hostage to get a levee constructed."

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/07/11/2280721/republican-senator-admits-he-is-blocking-a-new-epa-head-over-a-pet-project/

grape_crush
grape_crush

> Democrats filibustered an extraordinary number of George W. Bush‘s judicial nominees

Just as Republicans stymied an 'extraordinary' number of Bill Clinton's judicial nominees. An eye for an eye leaves us all blind, except for the lone one-eyed guy at the very end.

> ...for several generations there has been a clear precedent in the Senate...

Actually, that 'precedent' you write about has changed somewhat dramatically over the past 50 years, Scherer, as has its implementation and frequency of use.

SpikeLee
SpikeLee

You have to admire Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias for their consistent positions on the filibuster, as they're liberals who have always been against.  (Yes, I'm assuming here that neoliberal is a type of liberal.)

Jonathan Bernstein recently proposed something like full filibuster on lifetime judges, majority vote on other positions, and an undefined compromise for legislation.  (He's basically for keeping some version of a filibuster.)  I'd like to see judges positions be turned to long term position, like the Fed's 14 years; I'd personally like to give majorities power and responsibility so I'm against the filibuster in current Senate rules.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

"In effect, the Senate has long operated in exactly the way fourth graders are taught democracies don’t work: The minority can rule."

that's a blatant mischaracterization of what's going on. a minority blocking a vote is NOT the same thing as the minority ruling. ruling implies the freedom to do whatever you want, which is not the case. they're not able to pass an opposing bill instead after blocking a vote. they're simply allowed to block a vote for an indefinite period of time. i'm not opposed to them changing this, but i'm opposed to a (supposedly) reputable news site publishing blatant lies.  then again, this is TIME, so i'm not sure how reputable this actually is


roknsteve
roknsteve

Harry Reid will you please just push the button.  Enough is enough.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

What few people seem to realize is that If the Senate were to eliminate the filibuster and allow a simple majority to pass laws, those laws would go into effect and people would be able to immediately evaluate if they were a good idea or not. That's why I don't fear the Republican's controlling the chamber after such a change. Yes the country may suffer in the short run but the responsibility for that suffering would be clearly and easily assigned. Many of the games that currently allow Congresscritters to escape accountability would disappear.


MrObvious
MrObvious

In 2005 First threatened and Dems came to an agreement that lasted until GOP lost power. And GOP quickly abandoned the agreement. Just as they abandoned the agreement in the beginning of the year. Lets just say that there's no 60 vote role in the Senate other then for a few constitutionally stipulated things. The rest are simple majorities.

GOP have made the filibuster of everything into a deliberate attempt to destroy the Obama agenda. Not because some of the things are bad, just because. They're gladly filibuster things they even asked for.

outsider
outsider

Ah come on everyone - just continue to let the minority control gov't. 


I mean, it's not like they lost an election, right?

jmac
jmac

This filibustering of judicial nominees started under Clinton.  Republicans bottled up 60 of Clinton's nominees. .. 

The hypocrisy is that Republicans can get away with this, yet when Democrats question TEN of Bush's nominees it's a national crisis and the world as we know it was apparently ending.  Fox made sure everyone heard about it.  

The abuse of the filibuster is not an equal opportunity abuse, but let's write that someone is going to "pull the trigger" to end this disgusting abuse - and we all know which side will be called dictators, because the press is Fair and Balanced.  

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

@bobcn Please. If Reid thought for a second McConnell wasn't going to fight this he doesn't deserve the chair he sits on. The partisan bickering on the news and on this column only hides the true problem: our legislative branch is hopelessly broken. It must be reformed.

SpikeLee
SpikeLee

@bobcn As a conservative, Michael Scherer has often said that it's not TIME's job to tell the truth about Republicans.

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

@Sherm "you should have to get at least 60 other senators to sign on."

Says who?

bobcn
bobcn

@Sherm 

The GOP filibustering at issue here is not about passing laws but about preventing Obama from staffing the Executive and Judicial branches.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@Sherm 

That's the problem - most Americans want say X (like a good jobs bill) but because of a hardcore minority GOP have made it into a unconstitutional 60 votes to pass.

In other words; it's not about the peoples will - it's about the minorities will. What you want has the opposite effect in your scenario.  THEY do not pass legislation - they legislate (or should at least) our will.

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

@wrathbrow Be careful for what you wish.  I don't like the childish tactics any more than you do, but if the Senate were voting on the legality of something like slavery, I'd want the ability of the minority to block it.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@Ivy_B 

So not because she's unqualified, just because he wants an appropriate bribe.

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

I would hope that every agency would stop all action in Blunt's state, including any on both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers  until he realizes that he isn't a god nor was he elected emperor.  This is a pile of s88t!  Too many big egos in small minds!  Good reason to get rid of any "holds" on nominations and if you want to filibuster, get out the cots, stay on subject, and don't need to go to the bathroom (which will be damn near impossible in a group of really old men).

jmac
jmac

@Ivy_B Could Time please replace Scherer with Ivy B?  

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

An "eye for an eye" just leaves a bunch of one-eyed persons standing around and accomplishes nothing.  Filibuster from the podium on the subject or sit down and vote.

SmoothEdward1
SmoothEdward1

@grape_crush You know what this chart shows? It all started with Goldwater's loss in 1964. Time to let it go, folks.

jmac
jmac

@cjh2nd The minority taking power and blocking any bill in the House that isn't going to pass without a majority of it's members could very well be called minorities ruling.  Pelosi didn't do any kind of "Hashert Rule".  Boehner is controlled by his wing nuts and McConnell is controlled by his wing nuts as he watched Mike Lee win in Utah over a very, very conservative Senator.  We're going to have more of these extremists elements if reporters ignore what has happened to the Republican party.   They simple can't control themselves because if they do, they lose their jobs.   

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

@roknsteve Harry Reid, the former Golden Gloves boxer, has been using his time-tested fighting strategy of letting his opponent pummel his face in the hopes of wearing him out. Now that the GOP is sufficiently tired, Harry will push the button (if he can see straight, think straight and find the damm thing...)

ahandout
ahandout

@PaulDirks Yeah that's a brilliant idea.  Let's have all the laws on the books that any moron in Congress can get passed and when it ends up throwing us in prison, we can say, "ah, I don't like that law."  Jesus.

tom.litton
tom.litton

@PaulDirks That may be true for small things, but any large reform (which are occasionally necessary) are often nightmares short term.  

Think of Obamacare.  Long term i have no doubt it will become very popular, but the next couple of years will be rough for it.  At least until people adjust and the major problems are ironed out.

Without the filibuster it's possible (although i think unlikely) it would be repealed in 2016.   

 Does anyone know if Social Security, Medicare, the voting act, etc. would have survived without the filibuster?

curt3rd
curt3rd

"Fox made sure everyone heard about it."  

What the hell was Fox thinking reporting the news?  Dont they know that you can only report on stuff that the liberal media allows you to?

bobcn
bobcn

@jmac

Scherer can find lots of room in his article to repeatedly quote Reid's statements from eight years ago.  However, he can't seem to find any room to mention the 'Gang Of Fourteen' agreement that got Bush's judicial nominees confirmation votes and established a written agreement for future judicial filibusters -- an agreement the Democrats honored but the GOP promptly reneged upon when they became the minority.

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

@evil.aaronm @wrathbrow There are other means to do this. For example, allowing the filibuster to be invoked by majority vote of the minority party only x number of times every two years. Allowing every small issue to be indefinitely blocked just amounts to massive inefficiency.

bobcn
bobcn

@jmac @cjh2nd 

I've long believed that the Dems need to start using some of the gop's own tactics against them (like the Hastert Rule) if for no other reason than that the gop needs to learn that there's a price to pay for bad behavior.  

Moderate Dems argue that they don't want to use those tactics (like changing filibuster rules in response to blanket filibuster abuse) because the tactics might be used against them in the future.  They need to realize that the modern gop will use any tactic that gets them what they want.  You don't have to wait for the future to see how they'll behave -- they're doing it now.  They've shown that they have no respect for precedent or fairness at all.  Just look at the recent flurry of anti-abortion legislation being forced through around the country using unethical and undemocratic tricks.  Any Dem who believes the gopers will respect filibuster precedent if the gopers gain a Senate majority is a fool.

SpikeLee
SpikeLee

@tom.litton@PaulDirksWithout the filibuster it's possible it would be revived in 2018.  Larger reforms are easier to pass with 50 votes than 60.

"Does anyone know if Social Security, Medicare, the voting act, etc. would have survived without the filibuster?"  Yes, Bush didn't have 50 votes in the Senate for killing Social Security, and no one tried to kill Medicare and the voting act in recent times.

jmac
jmac

@curt3rd When they're reporting and spinning lies that's not the news.  Iraq was weaker than when Bush Sr went in and the next thing we know Iraq is the biggest threat to the free world.   Mushroom cloud.  Yellow Cake.    Flags flying.   Music soaring.  Put hand on heart.  Feel proud.  

But  Fox has ruined the Republican party and that's a good thing.   They biggest joke in the whole thing (besides Jr looking for WMD's under his chair and laughing) was Cheney complaining about Saddam killing his own folks when Cheney was over there shaking hands with Saddam at the time.  Fox viewers will swallow anything.      

SpikeLee
SpikeLee

@Ivy_B @TyPollard @jmac You'd have to go on Twitter and attack people for wondering why only conservatives are worthy of a day-long piece.

I'd hate to work for Time if it wasn't likely to go under or be some millionaire's plaything.  Now?  More power to you if you're willing to write puff pieces about why it's OK for Mitt Romney to lie.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@Ivy_B @jmac 

It would be more flattering if Scherer weren't so relentlessly shallow.

grape_crush
grape_crush

 @MrObvious@grape_crush@SmoothEdward1 > That word just doesn't sound right

Yeaah. Problem is that I've heard the term 'paleoconservative' applied to Bob Dole-Jack Kemp GOPers, so I can't use it here...that leaves us calling today's conservatives, what? 

Reconstructionist conservatives? Reconservatives?

grape_crush
grape_crush

@jmac@bobcn@cjh2nd> ... then a majority of American's will think it's all about those nasty Democrats.

Doesn't help when articles like Scherer's frame Senate hypocrisy like it's mostly a Dem thing because they are talking abut the nuclear option when they once spoke out about it...GOPers are being just, if not more hypocritical for opposing a change of the filibuster rules they once championed, abandoning their cries of 'up or down vote'.

Yeah, there's hypocrisy, but apparently media types aren't allowed to call it on Republicans.

jmac
jmac

@bobcn @jmac @cjh2nd The problem with Democrats acting as nasty as Republicans is that there's a propaganda channel who will have a drumbeat about it and the message will be picked up by the MSM and then a majority of American's will think it's all about those nasty Democrats.    It was certainly easy for a Republican president to invade Iraq with his propaganda channel and the MSM playing dead.    Maybe instead of Democrats being nasty, the press should finally get nasty with anyone who plays the false equivalency game.   That would mean firing some Time reporters.