As mentioned, Democrats set up a historic vote today on curbing the filibuster, which Republicans have been using to prevent the United States Senate from considering President Obama’s executive and judicial nominees. The vote was a success, with fifty Democrats and two independents backing the rules change.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid orchestrated the vote by bringing one of President Obama’s stalled nominations for the D.C. Circuit back to the floor for consideration. Republicans robotically filibustered as expected, and at that point, Reid moved to change the rules by appealing a parliamentary ruling.
Three Democrats refused to back the rules change: Carl Levin of Michigan (who is retiring), Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Every Republican voted to keep the filibuster as is, and every other Democrat, plus Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, voted to reform it.
Consequently, the vote of the Pacific Northwest delegation broke down strictly along party lines. Here is the roll call, for the record:
Voting Aye (to keep the filibuster as is): Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
Voting Nay (to reform the filibuster): Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon, Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska
Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, who has been a leader in the effort to reform the filibuster, released a statement in the aftermath of the vote, celebrating the rules change as a huge step forward. Here is the text of his statement:
Today’s rule change is a victory for the American people. The endless abuse of the filibuster on nominations has done great damage to the independence of our courts. The minority party has filibustered too many qualified nominees to our Executive and Judicial branches, not because of any character or qualification issues, but because they were nominated by our current President. That is just wrong.
Nominees deserve up or down votes. These filibusters have been contrary to the spirit of our Constitution, which envisions coequal branches of government.
The nominees that the Senate minority has blocked over the past year were nominated to positions that affect the American people and the economy in vital ways, including the nominees to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The judges on the D.C. Circuit Court rule on issues that directly and deeply impact middle class families, like health care, workplace safety, and clean air and water rules.
Moreover, the endless filibusters have taken up endless weeks of the Senate’s time, better spent on boosting manufacturing, investing in our infrastructure, and improving education.
Ending the abusive filibuster on nominations is a big step toward restoring the functionality of the Senate, and that matters for all of us. I hope we continue to look at ways to make this legislative body work better. We face big challenges as a nation, and we need a Congress that can take on those challenges.
The Senate is expected to begin confirming President Obama’s D.C. Circuit nominees (Patricia Millet, Nina Pillard Judge Robert Wilkins), beginning next week.
At least through 2014, President Obama will now be able to nominate qualified individuals to serve on his executive team or on the federal bench without having to worry about Republicans blocking them from even receiving a vote. Republicans, of course, have even more reason now to want to retake the Senate majority in 2014.