With Senate Republicans blocking a third Obama nomination to the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, a senior Senate Democratic leadership aide tells me Reid is now all but certain to move to change the Senate rules by simple majority — doing away with the filibuster on executive and judicial nominations, with the exception of the Supreme Court – as early as this week.
At a presser today, Reid told reporters he was taking another look at rules reform, but didn’t give a timeline. The senior leadership aide goes further, saying it’s hard to envision circumstances under which Reid doesn’t act. “Reid has become personally invested in the idea that Dems have no choice other than to change the rules if the Senate is going to remain a viable and functioning institution,” the aide says.
If this is true, then hallelujah. Democrats have tolerated Republican obstructionism and abuse of Senate rules and procedures for so long that many people have despaired of filibuster reform ever becoming a reality.
But it appears that Harry Reid and Senate Democrats may have finally, finally, finally had enough. In filibustering President Obama’s highly qualified nominees to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — for no reason other than because they want the vacancies to go unfilled so the court leans ideologically to the right — Republicans have succeeded in convincing Democratic senators previously opposed to voting to change Senate rules to curb filibuster abuse to jump on the reform bandwagon. Even long-serving senators like Dianne Feinstein:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D‑CA) said Tuesday she supports a rules change for nominees via the nuclear option after “unconscionable” GOP filibusters of three consecutive individuals to D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I do now,” she told TPM in the Capitol. “It is unconscionable for a president not to be able to have his cabinet team, his sub-cabinet team, and not be able to appoint judges.”
“I’ve been very shocked by the way very qualified nominees, particularly for the D.C. Circuit, have been filibustered,” Feinstein said.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that he’d seen enough.
The filibuster of Judge Wilkins, he said before it inevitably happened, “will be a tipping point.”
“I fear that after tonight the talk about changing the cloture rules for judicial nominations will no longer be just talk,” Sen. Leahy said. “There will be action.”
Feinstein and Leahy’s willingness to change Senate rules is huge. They’re among the most senior members of the caucus, and have in the past expressed strong reluctance to pursue what’s alternately been called the nuclear option and the constitutional option. Barbara Boxer is on board too:
“I am very open to changing the rules for nominees,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D‑Calif.) told The Huffington Post. “I was not before, because I felt we could work with them. But it’s gotten to an extreme situation where really qualified people can’t get an up-or-down vote.”
Extreme, indeed. These days, Republicans abuse the filibuster in a very robotic way, to block anything and everything. Nominees. Legislation. Amendments to bills.
Michigan’s Carl Levin, among the biggest holdouts to filibuster reform, says he supports changing the rules, but only through a supermajority vote, as opposed to a majority vote. But that’s not an option.
If the rules are to be changed, it will have to be by majority vote.
The Democratic caucus consists of fifty-three senators plus the two independents who caucus with Democrats (Angus King and Bernie Sanders). King and Sanders are known to be supportive of filibuster reform, so aside from losing Levin, Reid could probably afford to lose four other Democratic senators and still have the votes to change Senate rules. Of the Pacific Northwest delegation, Jeff Merkley is perhaps the most supportive of filibuster reform, while Max Baucus is the most lukewarm.
NPI fully supports a majority vote in the United States Senate to end Republicans’ outrageous abuse of the filibuster. There is no reason not to make the change. If Republicans ever get the White House and the Senate back, they won’t hesitate to change the rules themselves to overcome Democratic filibusters of nominees. Democrats should go ahead and change Senate rules so Congress’ gridlocked upper chamber can begin operating democratically, at least some of the time.