WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pulled the trigger Thursday, deploying a parliamentary procedure dubbed the “nuclear option” to change Senate rules to pass most executive and judicial nominees by a simple majority vote.
The Senate voted 52 to 48 for the move, with just three Democrats declining to go along with the rarely used maneuver.
From now until the Senate passes a new rule, executive branch nominees and judges nominated for all courts except the Supreme Court will be able to pass off the floor and take their seats on the bench with the approval of a simple majority of senators. They will no longer have to jump the traditional hurdle of 60 votes, which has increasingly proven a barrier to confirmation during the Obama administration.
Reid opened debate in the morning by saying that it has become “so, so very obvious” that the Senate is broken and in need of rules reform. He rolled through a series of statistics intended to demonstrate that the level of obstruction under President Barack Obama outpaced any historical precedent.
Half the nominees filibustered in the history of the United States were blocked by Republicans during the Obama administration; of 23 district court nominees filibustered in U.S. history, 20 were Obama’s nominees; and even judges that have broad bipartisan support have had to wait nearly 100 days longer, on average, than President George W. Bush’s nominees.
"It’s time to change before this institution becomes obsolete," Reid said, before citing scripture — "One must not break his word" — in accusing Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) of breaking his promise to work in a more bipartisan fashion.
McConnell responded to Reid by changing the subject to the Affordable Care Act and accusing Democrats of trying to distract Americans from the law’s troubled rollout. Getting around to fidelity, McConnell noted that Reid had said in July that “we’re not touching judges,” yet he was now choosing to do so. Reid casually brushed off his suit coat and sat down.
McConnell compared the alleged duplicity to another Democratic piece of rhetoric. “If you like the rules of the Senate, you can keep them,” he quipped, as the GOP side laughed heartily, which encouraged a pleased McConnell to turn directly to his colleagues and repeat the joke.
He then turned to the Democratic side and said he understood why inexperienced young members who’d never been in the minority might want to change the rules. “The rest of you guys in the conference should know better,” he said.
Obstruction, McConnell said, began with the Democrats when they decided to filibuster Circuit Court nominees under Bush. “They made it up. They started it,” he said, arguing that Republicans were only following their lead. His argument, though, raises the question of why eliminating the filibuster on such judges, if it was never used before 2000, should be seen as an historic development in the first place.
"Stop trying to jam us," McConnell said, warning that it would come back to haunt them. "You may regret it a lot sooner than you think."
Normally rules changes in the Senate need 67 votes, but the majority can challenge an existing rule, and if the presiding senator rules against the challenge, the majority can then ask for a vote on the chair’s ruling. If a simple majority votes to overrule the chair, it sets a new precedent.
Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) broke with their party and joined Republicans in opposing the move. Pryor is in an uphill reelection contest, which may explain his vote, but Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who are also top GOP targets in 2014, backed the rules change.
Levin, a Senate traditionalist, has long been the most outspoken opponent of rules reform, and led a successful effort to stymie the movement earlier this year. Manchin, meanwhile, has great reverence for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), a fierce champion of Senate tradition, likely explaining his vote. (Byrd did make several attempts to change the rules himself when he served as majority leader.)
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who has long been skeptical of changing the rules, cast a critical vote very late in the process supporting the move. That left Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a recent convert to reform, to cast the 51st vote, with Reid casting the 52nd.
The move marks a significant win for the newer crop of Democrats — like Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, the lead proponent of going nuclear — who have grown increasingly frustrated as McConnell expertly employed parliamentary procedures to stall Democratic nominees and initiatives. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) have also been longtime champions of filibuster reform, with Harkin’s effort dating back more than two decades.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who chaired the Judiciary Committee back when it was Democrats trying to stall Bush’s nominees, echoed McConnell, suggesting newer Democrats such as Merkley, who have never been in the minority, were not taking the long view.
Moments ago, Gary Peters announced that he will run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Carl Levin in 2014.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan says he will not seek re-election in 2014. He says he wants to do his job as Senate Armed Services chairman and as an advocate for his home state “without the distraction of campaigning for re-election.”
Levin was first elected to the Senate in 1978 and is the longest-serving senator in Michigan’s history. The 78-year-old lawmaker says in a statement the decision was “extremely difficult.” He says he loves representing the people of Michigan and fighting for what he believes is important for them.
h/t: Yahoo! News
Filibuster reform is in trouble, proponents warn, at the hands of a scaled-back proposal they say would enhance rather than diminish the Senate minority’s power to obstruct.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) says his proposal to force filibustering senators to occupy the floor and speak ceaselessly could be in jeopardy, thanks to a newbipartisan filibuster package that he and his ally Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) argue would do more harm than good to the cause.
“Normally the majority party has a right to determine the agenda of the Senate. They don’t have the right to pass bills. That’s up to the majority of the Senate,” Udall said on the floor Wednesday. “But then the majority leader should have the right to bring a bill to the floor of the Senate. And that has been denied over and over again by the minority party. That’s wrong.”
The dueling proposal, spearheaded by longtime Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI), would make it somewhat tougher for the minority to block debate on legislation but also guarantee them two amendments on bills — regardless of relevancy — which proponents of a weaker filibuster say defeats the purpose.
“It’s a step backward rather than a step forward,” a Merkley aide said. “It doesn’t attack the core of the matter. It doesn’t include a talking filibuster. And it allows the minority to kill legislation with poison pill amendments. It keeps all the tools minority has to obstruct and then gives them another tool.”
Early in December, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said filibuster reform will happen with or without Republican support, and Merkley-Udall was the plan on the table. But the unveiling of the McCain-Levin late December — and the optics of a partisan versus bipartisan solution — scrambled the game for reformers.
If Reid decides to pursue McCain-Levin instead of the talking filibuster plan, “Senator Merkley will encourage others to vote against the bill,” his aide said. It’s not yet clear that proposal has the super-majority of votes required to pass, but multiple Democratic senators have said there are at least 51 votes for reform.
h/t: Sahil Kapur at TPM
The Republican politicization of the Benghazi attack may have endangered the lives of several Libyan nationals. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, released 166 pages of documents [PDF] on Friday as part of his investigation into the Obama administration’s response to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack.
That evening, Foreign Policy reported that the documents contained unredacted names of several Libyans working closely with the United States government. In an interview with Rogin, an Obama administration decried Issa’s action as endangering the lives of those named:
“Much like WikiLeaks, when you dump a bunch of documents into the ether, there are a lot of unintended consequences,” an administration official told The Cable Friday afternoon. “This does damage to the individuals because they are named, danger to security cooperation because these are militias and groups that we work with and that is now well known, and danger to the investigation, because these people could help us down the road.”
One of the cables released by Issa names a woman human rights activist who was leading a campaign against violence and was detained in Benghazi. She expressed fear for her safety to U.S. officials and criticized the Libyan government.
“This woman is trying to raise an anti-violence campaign on her own and came to the United States for help. She isn’t publicly associated with the U.S. in any other way but she’s now named in this cable. It’s a danger to her life,” the administration official said.
Among others named in the document were a port manager working with the U.S. to improve infrastructure, as well as various militia members and commanders who share information on other armed groups within Libya. Top Democrats, including Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), have slammed Issa for the document dump.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who also sits on the Oversight Committee, likewise issued a statement saying, “The irony is that while Chairman Issa purports to be sincere in his desire to investigate the recent attack so that we can learn how best to protect our diplomats in the future, his own actions have now compromised the safety of U.S. personnel and Libyans working together to forge a better Libya.”
This is not the first time that the Oversight Committee’s Republican majority has possibly exposed sensitive information in the course of their investigation into Benghazi. During the Oct. 10 hearing, Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) may have revealed the classified location of a CIA safehouse while viewing an unclassified map.
Rep. Issa has been quoted, according a partial transcript released by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), as referring these unclassified designations as “crap.” Those whose names were published would likely argue otherwise.
Newly revealed donations made by former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, the Republican primary for Senate, could further compound accusations that he is not sufficiently conservative: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that in 2008, Thompson donated to two Democratic candidates.
Thompson donated $250 to Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, and $100 to Bev Perdue in the North Carolina gubernatorial race. He had earlier run for the Republican presidential nomination, after having been Secretary of Health and Human Services during President George W. Bush’s first term.