In their press conference following yesterday’s vote to change the Senate rules on filibusters, Democratic senators used a chart provided by PFAW to outline the extremity and unprecedented nature of the GOP’s obstruction of President Obama’s nominees.
Photos by J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press via The Washington Post
On ABC News’ “This Week” yesterday, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah claimed that he takes the “principled position” of voting against filibusters of judicial nominees:
And matter of fact, I continue to vote against filibusters with regard to judicial nominations because I think it's a principled position. I actually think the president, whoever the president may be ought to have the full choice of who they put on the bench.
And unless there's just some overwhelming reason why somebody should never be on the bench.
But on many pivotal votes to break GOP filibusters of President Obama’s federal judicial nominees, Sen. Hatch hasn’t voted “against” the filibuster. Instead, he’s made a habit of voting “present” or not voting at all. Because a motion to break a filibuster requires 60 affirmative “yes” votes to succeed, not voting or voting “present” in effect supports the continuation of the filibuster.
Hatch voted “present” on efforts to break Republican filibusters of Obama judicial nominees Caitlin Halligan, Goodwin Liu, Jack McConnell and Robert Bacharach. He did not vote at all in cloture votes on nominee Andrew Hurwitz and in the second cloture vote on Halligan.
These votes allow Hatch to say he didn’t support a filibuster, while in fact voting to do just that. And he certainly didn’t take a “principled position” to vote “against” his Republican colleagues’ obstruction.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today moved to end Republican filibusters of seven of President Obama’s nominees to fill executive branch positions, including nominees for some of the agencies most despised by the GOP: Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Tom Perez for Secretary of Labor, Gina McCarthy to head the EPA and three nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.
The move presents an ultimatum for Senate Republicans: end their senseless obstruction or force Reid to change Senate rules to eliminate nominations filibusters.
In a memo this week, we laid out the statistics behind the GOP’s unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s executive branch nominees. We found that if Republicans keep on obstructing Obama’s nominees at the current rate, they will have filibustered more executive branch nominees under Obama than under all previous presidents combined.
The Senate has had filibuster showdowns before – most notably in 2005, when a bipartisan group of senators agreed to let several extreme George W. Bush judicial nominees go through, including a number of the judges who now make up the influential D.C. Circuit's extraordinarily right-wing majority.
It was a compromise that left progressives cringing, but let Senate business move forward. But now Senate Republicans are acting like they’ve never heard the word “compromise.” According to Politico, Reid had some strong words on the situation:
In a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday, Reid began by apologizing to his colleagues for cutting bipartisan deals to avert the nuclear option, including at the beginning of this year. And the Nevada Democrat complained that he allowed votes on scores of conservative nominees under former President George W. Bush after a bipartisan coalition headed off the nuclear option in 2005. But Reid said it had been the right thing to do because Bush had won a second term in the White House.
Now, Reid argued, times have changed.
“I ate sh— on some of those nominees,” Reid told his colleagues, according to sources who were present.
Journalist Andrew Cohen, writing for the Brennan Center for Justice, explains how attempts to portray today’s Republican filibusters as routine “tit-for-tat” maneuvers are misleading:
By trying not to be partisan, at least in this area of political coverage, we journalists are in many ways becoming more partisan than we fear. James Fallows, the author and longtime correspondent at The Atlantic, has been preaching for years now about “false equivalence” in reporting about the Senate’s current gridlock. He has called out reporters and editors, producers and television hosts, headline writers and analysts, for their continuing failure to call it like it really is when it comes to these Senate votes. For example, on Wednesday, in the wake of the background check vote, which “passed” the Senate by a vote of 54-46 but effectively “failed” because of the threat of a filibuster, Fallows again explained the concept. He wrote:
Since the Democrats regained majority control of the Senate six years ago, the Republicans under Mitch McConnell have applied filibuster threats (under a variety of names) at a frequency not seen before in American history. Filibusters used to be exceptional. Now they are used as blocking tactics for nearly any significant legislation or nomination. The goal of this strategy, which maximizes minority blocking power in a way not foreseen in the Constitution, has been to make the 60-vote requirement seem routine. As part of the "making it routine" strategy, the minority keeps repeating that it takes 60 votes to "pass" a bill — and this Orwellian language-redefinition comes one step closer to fulfillment each time the press presents 60 votes as the norm for passing a law.
News consumers, in other words, are led to believe that what is happening is just “politics as usual,” tit-for-tat, part of the murky vote-counting calculus that has always been a part of the Senate’s rules. But there is now ample evidence to suggest that this tactic has fundamentally changed the way Congress works. In 2009 alone, the Brennan Center’s Diana Kasdan told me last week, “there was double the number of filibusters that occurred in the entire 20-year period from 1950-1969, when they were used repeatedly and notoriously to block civil rights legislation.” In other words, today’s abuse of the filibuster is extraordinary. Yet Fallows gives many examples — actual headlines, probably hundreds of them over the years — in which journalists have refused or failed to properly communicate this to their audience. Without adequate context and perspective about what is happening in the Senate, the American people are hampered in how quickly they can force their elected officials to change (or, more accurately, to change their elected officials).
In fact, as we have reported here, today’s GOP has taken Senate obstruction to an extraordinary new level.
On Monday, the Senate will hold a cloture vote to end the filibuster of Robert Bacharach to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. This filibuster is just the latest example of the destructive obstruction of judicial nominees that Republicans have engaged in from the very start of the Obama presidency.
In fact, if this filibuster succeeds, it will be the first time there has ever been a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support.
Bacharach, who hails from Oklahoma, is extraordinarily well qualified to be a circuit court judge. The ABA panel that evaluates judicial nominees unanimously gave him their highest possible rating, "well qualified." He has been a magistrate judge in the Western District of Oklahoma for over a decade, giving him substantial experience with the criminal and civil legal issues he would face as a circuit court judge.
Much of Oklahoma's legal establishment has publicly supported his nomination: the Chief Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma; the Oklahoma Bar Association; the Dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Law; the General Counsel at Oklahoma City University; the Dean Emeritus at Oklahoma City University School of Law; the President of the Oklahoma County Bar Association; fellow members of the Federal Bar Association; and attorneys who worked closely with him while he was in private practice.
Bacharach also has strong bipartisan support. He has the support of President Obama and both of Oklahoma's Republican senators. In addition, he was approved by the Judiciary Committee nearly unanimously, with only Sen. Lee voting no (for reasons unrelated to the nominee). Sen. Coburn has said it would be "stupid" for his party to block a floor vote on Bacharach.
Last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that his party would refuse to consent to any further confirmation votes for circuit court nominees, purportedly because it is an election year. He cited the so-called "Thurmond Rule," which he mischaracterized as a practice of not allowing any judicial confirmation votes as we approach a presidential election. In reality, it is not a "rule" at all. Instead, it is the name for the general principle that the party not in the White House will sometimes slow confirmation of controversial judicial nominees at some point in the months leading up to a presidential election. It has nothing to do with consensus nominees like Bacharach.
In fact, as noted above, a successful filibuster of Bacharach would be the first time there has ever been a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support. That is hardly consistent with Senate history or practice.
But it would be consistent with Republican efforts to obstruct President Obama's judicial nominees regardless of their qualifications, regardless of their strong bipartisan support, and regardless of the damage the obstruction inflicts on the American people. After years of calling filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees unconstitutional, Senate Republicans turned around and filibustered President Obama's very first judicial nominee (David Hamilton, to the Seventh Circuit). This year, most of the circuit court nominees who have been confirmed have required a cloture vote to break Republican filibusters.
Republican efforts to filibuster Robert Bacharach are completely unjustified, but are also no surprise.