Senate Nuclear Showdown Approaches Farce

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J. Scott Applwhite / AP

Take two esteemed public servants whose power arises from their own reputations as honest brokers. Put them on a Sunday network television show with an impossible task: Argue with passion and principle for the opposite of a position they held with similar conviction just a decade earlier. Congressional politics has long been theater without much entertainment. This Sunday, it bordered on farce.

On NBC’s Meet The Press, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, 73, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 71, both tried their best. At issue was whether the Senate should go nuclear this week—amending its rules with a controversial parliamentary maneuver to strip from the Republicans the ability to block President Obama’s nominees with just 40 votes.

A decade ago, when Democrats were in the minority blocking George W. Bush’s nominees, McConnell thought this was a grand idea, calling it a “constitutional” effort to help the Senate get “back to tradition.” Now he thinks it’s a terrible idea. “It’s breaking the rules of the Senate in order to change the rules of the Senate,” McConnell said Sunday. He also called it “a threat to blow up the Senate.”

In 2005, Reid said the nuclear option was “an illegal precedent,” and he cited the Constitution in his defense. “Nowhere in that document does it say the Senate has a duty to give presidential nominees ‘an up-or-down vote,’” he said then. Now he claims the Constitution demands the change. “The constitution’s pretty specific: If you want a super majority vote, look at what a veto is or a treaty, but if you want to look at the nomination, you know what the founding fathers said, simple majority,” Reid said Sunday.

Both men are Senate lifers, and they love the institution they have served together in for decades. But they seem unclear on how to save it. “Our approval rating is lower than North Korea’s,” Reid said at one point, suggesting that the delay in approving nominees to the National Labor Relations Board might be the culprit. A more obvious cause lay right in front of them: The Senate is filled with people who say what they think needs to be said in the moment for political advantage, with little respect for their audience, the American people. It has become a body that peddles outrage and indignation, not intellectual integrity or consistency.

While both Reid and McConnell claimed history and tradition, they were in fact both playing a different game, ratcheting up the pressure to improve their odds in the coming back-room negotiations over just how many of Obama’s nominees will be confirmed, and just how quickly. Currently, the key fights are over two positions at the labor board, the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Secretary of Labor. Some appellate court judges also wait in the wings. Just as Republicans held a gun to the head of Senate tradition in 2005 to get many of President Bush’s appellate court judges confirmed, so too are Democrats now threatening to upset precedent unless they get their way.

On Sunday, McConnell seemed to suggest the way out of the impasse. “He’s a reasonable man. He’s a good majority leader,” McConnell said of Reid. “And we’re going to have a chance to air all of this out in a joint conference with all of our members Monday.” McConnell spoke those words exactly three days after he appeared on the Senate floor to announce that Reid would be remembered as the “worst leader here ever,” if he went through with a rule change McConnell once publicly supported. That same day, McConnell’s campaign tweeted out a photo of a tombstone engraved with the words “Harry Reid” and “Killed the Senate.”

If Reid is not able to extract sufficient concessions from Republicans he may still go through with the rules change, which would have unknown ripple effects on the rest of the Senate’s other business over the coming months. Under Reid’s proposals, filibusters would be prohibited only for non-judicial appointments. The minority’s ability to block judges and legislation with just 40 votes would be unchanged. A backlash from Republicans over the nuclear change could make the body even more dysfunctional than it already has become.

But these are questions to be answered when the real work begins, in direct negotiations between the two men and their staff. On Sunday, before the cameras, Reid and McConnell were stuck with the scripts they had written themselves.

After host David Gregory pointed out that Reid’s current position did not jive with his past statements, the senior senator from Nevada repeated a bunch of rehearsed lines that nonetheless contradicted what he had said before. Then he lost his way. “This president has had 16 executive nominations filibustered. We have now 15 pending waiting an average of — waiting an average of,” he stammered, as seconds ticked by. “I lost my number there for a second,” he said after a pause. More seconds passed. It was painful television, but the frankness of Reid’s momentary failing was refreshing. For a few moments, no one on the screen was faking anything.

52 comments
SpikeLee
SpikeLee

Hypocrite Mickey Scherer strikes again.

In 2005, Democratic Senators were blocking George Bush's nominees to the judicial branch

Today, Republican Senators are blocking Barack Obama's nominees to the executive branch.

Since Mickey didn't explain the difference, should I assume he is a liar, or just ignorant of US politics?

gysgt213
gysgt213

Maybe what Michael wrote muddy the waters a tab bit.  Let me explain.  There is no nuclear option. There will be no entire elimination of the filibuster. What is being discussed is minor changes so 40 people cannot stop the senate from doing its job no matter which party is in charge.  

mary.waterton
mary.waterton

Since the 1980's the democrats have used the filibuster to the max. Ted Kennedy was famous for it. It's the reason why our court system is so liberally dysfunctional despite the fact that there have been more republican presidents than democrat presidents. The republicans are simply doing now what the democrats have done for the last generation!


I say force the democrats to use the nuclear option and eliminate the filibuster. That way they will have no grounds upon which to complain when the situation is reversed and republicans control the White House and Senate.

yogi
yogi

There is only one way this can be solved, Reid or McConnell needs to slap the other with a white glove and challenge them to a duel. Its an American tradition.

fitty_three
fitty_three

Mr. Scherer:

Why don't you read @sacredh 's comment below then answer this question:

Do you plan to take his statement literally?

sacredh
sacredh

The nuclear option would poison the bipartisan cooperation that has characterized the senate for the last 5 years.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

Mr. Scherer, you hit the nail on the head with this....

"The Senate is filled with people who say what they think needs to be said in the moment for political advantage, with little respect for their audience, the American people. It has become a body that peddles outrage and indignation, not intellectual integrity or consistency."

I am more disgusted with our Federal government than at any other time in my life.  Partisan ideology trumps the Greater Good apparently. 

jmac
jmac

"Molly Redden argues that Harry Reid’s filibuster reform proposal “is so modest that you could fairly construe it as a return to the status quo”

Redden is right and Scherer's nuclear showdown is a farce.  

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Michael, congrats on your promotion to Washington Bureau Chief (also mentioned at Morning Must Reads). I agree that filibuster reform is a farce when Reid is the "leader" of the Senate. If Schumer was Majority Leader, he'd invoke the nuclear option. If a moderate deal-maker like Patty Murray was leader, she'd work out some deal to limit filibuster abuse. But Reid? 'Nuff said.


However, one minor word use error in your last paragraph - use "jibe" instead of "jive" so sentence reads, "After host David Gregory pointed out that Reid’s current position did not jibe with his past statements..." as this is the correct word. But of course, when in doubt, always ask TIME's vocabulary expert Katy Steinmetz.

http://grammarist.com/usage/gibe-jibe-jive/

reallife
reallife

"Harry Reid" and "honest broker" in the same sentence!

hahahahaha  good one!

:0


jmac
jmac

UNDER REID'S PROPOSALS, FILIBUSTERS WOULD BE PROHIBITED ONLY FOR NON-JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS." 

As Scherer continues his very odd Fair and Balanced Fox News articles, he should have had that as a headline without the ridiculous "nuclear option" ever being mentioned.   We're not talking about judges, we're talking about a President's right to appoint cabinet members, heads of labor boards, for God sake! A head to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

We deserve the country we have, we deserve the Republican party that we have today (that I no longer vote for) because of reporters playing foul to cover up what one party has become.  Scherer is a big part of the problem.   



JdReader
JdReader

McConnell, the Grand Obstructionist, is crying crocodile tears.  The man has vowed to derail the President of the United States on all policy matters. Withholding his appointments is one way to destroy an agenda. 

BobJan
BobJan

the only way for them to save it is "to get the heck outa there". They need to quit or be thrown out. We've got the best Congress money can buy.

tom.litton
tom.litton

Why not change the rules so that the nominees are allowed to serve in a post with all the rights and responsibilities of that post until the Senate votes them down?  It still allows the senate to confirm them and the senate rules don't have to change. 

anon76
anon76

McConnell is an "esteemed" public servant?  Esteemed by who?  Certainly not Kentuckians.  Were I to guess, I would say that Scherer is outing himself as part of McConnel's base.

roknsteve
roknsteve

Can you tell Mitch from Harry without a name tag, I can't?  Just two old fools. 

bobell
bobell

There is one unprecedented aspect to the Republican recalcitrance: Never before (that anyone has been able to discover) has an executive branch nominee been filibustered not because of anything about him- or herself but because the filibustering minority doesn't want the position to be filled at all. There's not the slightest suggerstion that Rob Cordray, for example, is in any way unworthy of chairing the CFPB. It's just that the Repubs don't like what the chairman is empowered to do, so they're not going to let Obama put anyone in the position.  Same for the NLRB, if a bit less obvious. Etc., etc.

What matters is not that the Dems have filibustered nominees in the past. It's the way the Repubs are abusing the filibuster in this context, as they are in others.  It's part of the partisan breakdown of the comity of the Senate.  I'd like to be surprised that the media are allowing McConnell to get away with his nonsense, but for them it's just another case of equivalence -- both sides do it.  But it's another false equivalence -- right, Michael?

bobcn
bobcn

Would someone please ask McConnell why the "Gang of Fourteen" agreement in 2005 that got Bush's judicial nominees confirmation votes and set the rules governing future judicial filibusters doesn't apply to Obama's administration.  Would someone please explain to me why it isn't being applied.  Or why the MSM accepts this as normal.   Is it just IOKIYAR?

jmac
jmac

@mary.waterton This is not about legislation or judicial appointments!    

"On Tuesday, Reid will begin lining up test votes on seven of Obama's executive nominees: Tom Perez to lead the Labor Department, Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Fred Hochberg to lead the Export-Import Bank and Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as Mark Gaston Pearce, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin to serve on the National Labor Relations Board.

As it stands, there are 161 pending executive nominees in the Senate, according to the White House. Some of the nominees on tap for votes this week have been waiting for hundreds of days. As of Monday, Cordray has waited 729 days, McCarthy has waited 133 days, Perez has waited 120 days and two of the NLRB nominees -- Block and Griffin -- have waited 578 days."

Scherer could have told you this, but it's easier to write a column about it being about Reid or McConnell.  It's basically about treating a president with decency.  




MrObvious
MrObvious

@mary.waterton 

And the statistics doesn't show it.


Alas, I'm going to have to believe my lying eyes again.

sacredh
sacredh

A republican in the White House. Snicker.

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

If McConnell wants to filibuster, then get out the cots and take the lecturn and shut the bathrooms and let the old men go as long as they stay on topic.  The problem is this so-called "filibuster" which is nothing more than just a way to block the other party.  If you want to filibuster-than talk.  And then vote.  Otherwise, if there ever is another Republican president, he will enter year 4 of his first and last term with no one approved for his Cabinet or any judge's position.  Payback is a bitch but it can be done.  Try running the government without any appointee that have to be approved.  It would create the GOTP dream, small government but it is also a stupid way to run a country-on par with the US House right now!.

jmac
jmac

@sacredh You are such a wise guy.  

 McCain is suggesting that Reid just let Republicans pick the nominees.   Why not?  Last time I looked the minority ruled.  

jmac
jmac

@AlphaJuliette See what you do, Scherer?   This isn't about partisan ideology, this is about a duly elected president being given the curtesy that Bush Senior and Bush Junior were given.  And it's NOT about judges or a "nuclear option."  

It's a one-sided partisan dog fight that sits directly on Scherer's head.  Even if this Banana Slug votes for the Democrat, he's responsible for what the Republican party has become.  He's helped make it with Fair and Balanced unfair reporting.   And it's not pretty.  It's hurting our economy, it's hurting us as a nation.     

bobell
bobell

"Jive" for "jibe" is an eggcorn, q.v. At some point a given instance of this sort of thing becomes so common that even though it makes my teeth itch I can't in good conscience inveigh against it.  Jive/jibe is just about there.  {SIGH}

Compare "mitigate against" and "If you think that, you've got another thing coming." Or even "I could care less."

Oh, yeah -- Congratulations, Michael. Don't be a stranger.  And allow me to recommend some artwork for your office wall: The words 'FALSE EQUIVALENCE"  peeking out from behind a red circle with a diagonal through it, meaning, of course "NO FALSE EQUIVALENCE". It'll do you and your staff a world of good.

Now playing: Villa-Lobos  Rudá, ballet music

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@reallife Same goes for McConnell. In fact more so.   I have never seen such a weasel in my entire life.  Distortion, half  truths and outright lies are this man's modus operandi. 

TyPollard
TyPollard

@jmac 

Being a big part of the problem is what gets you promoted. 

It just is.

grape_crush
grape_crush

edit "McConnell is an 'esteemed' politician who has a reputation as an honest broker?

MrObvious
MrObvious

@bobell

has an executive branch nominee been filibustered not because of anything about him- or herself but because the filibustering minority doesn't want the position to be filled at all.

This - it's like getting two votes - one you lost because you're in the minority and one you abuse because there's this thing called filibuster that used to be rarely used but that GOP is now tugging at for everything.

GOP have themselves to blame. They had a chance to honor their agreement that was put in place in January and if their words means nothing then this is an appropriate reaction to that.

outsider
outsider

@bobell 


Also, with the importance of the SC nominations coming up - i think Judges should be exempt too. 


If the constitution says veto or treaty, then it should just be that. Period. 



anon76
anon76

@bobcn

I don't think that its McConnell's responsibility.  Someone should ask the 7 Republicans from the Go14 why they suddenly decided to change how they treat the agreement, though- you're right about that.

mary.waterton
mary.waterton

@jmac @mary.waterton 

So it's okay when the democrats do it, but wrong when the republicans do it and frequency of abuse is the core issue here??? Give me a break. When the republicans tried to abolish the filibuster, the democrats and liberal news media hypocrites howled that "democracy was under attack" ... as if there is anything democratic about filibustering.

I'm hoping and praying the democrats abolish the filibuster. The democrat appointments will hurt the country in the short-term, but it will be the best thing that ever happened to the country in the long-term.

yogi
yogi

The dream of a shining senile on the hill will never die, sacredh.

jmac
jmac

@ARTRaveler We'd never get away with it.  Time writers would be outraged and they would spew the Fox line.   We know that.  We all watched Bush lie and invade.  

It's easy when you're a Republican and the press is scared to death of you.  

sacredh
sacredh

jmac, IF a republican wins the White House at some point in the future, they'll cry like schoolgirls if democrats don't confirm their appointments.

jmac
jmac

@TyPollard @jmac  It enrages me.  Obama was duly elected a second time and deserves to put on a staff, and cabinet members, etc.     Even judges, if you remember that when Bush honestly won a second term the Democrats did not filibuster Alito, who btw, is no Roberts; he's more in line with Thomas.    



Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@sacredh When they say "presidential election" are you sure they mean "of the United States"?

sacredh
sacredh

The Tea Party followers at work keep insisting that they'll win the "next" presidential election. Even when they're the ones that will prevent a GOP candidate from winning.

sacredh
sacredh

"IOKYR. It's fundamental."

IOKYR. It's fundamentalist. FIFY.

jmac
jmac

@sacredh Right!  One appointment and they'll go into spasms.   One.   Fox will go ballistic.   They do it for 60 of Clinton's appointments and apparently all is well.  Democrats are not suppose to be in power and certainly not suppose to rule.  The sad thing is, we believe it.   

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@manlyman Watch last Sundays' Meet the Press and you'll see.  All very self explanatory.  The man is utterly disingenuous.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@jmac @TyPollard Not sure why anyone is surprised or takes seriously MS's "takes"

The man can turn a phrase and is a decent writer but he is so deep into the tired Beltway narrative that he adds nothing of value to the reader. 

From day one here (let me breakdown the candidates for President of the United Sates as high school personalities. Surprise! McCain was the popular jock) MS has shown, with a few exceptions,  a deference to the narrative and a complete disconnect to how everyone else views any given issue. 

jmac
jmac

@TyPollard @jmac It's almost like he twists himself into a pretzel to get there.  It reminds me of the Dallas editorials.  They did the same thing trying to appease the Texas mentality with reasonable opinions.  Sometimes they just can't be mixed.