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Posts tagged "Filibuster Reform"

H/T: Ian Millhiser at Think Progress Justice

Last month, Senate Democrats were forced to change the rules of the filibuster after Republicans vowed to block all three of President Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals despite the fact that they had no problem with the nominees themselves.

But in the alternate universe of the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins,  when it comes to judicial nominations, “Senate Republicans have rarely displayed political courage stopping only a handful of nominees – nominees that ideologically would have been to the left of Hugo Chavez.”

Perkins said in his radio address today that the president’s nominations have in fact violated God’s “specific guidance on the selection of judges.”


Looking through a list of Obama judicial nominees delayed or blocked by the GOP, it’s hard to find any who resemble the late Venezuelan president, but the FRC’s perception of these things tends to be skewed. 

h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW

Elections have consequences. The Senate Democrats’ detonation of the “nuclear option” has dramatically raised the stakes for secular progressives in 2014, because if there are two issues that juice the Christian Right the most, it’s women’s reproductive rights and judicial activism. On the latter, the Religious Right senses a once-in-a-decade opportunity to impose its radical worldview on America.

Last week, the Senate voted 52-48 to eliminate the ability of the minority party in the Senate to filibuster executive branch nominees and any judgeship below the Supreme Court by changing the requirements for passage to a simple majority vote. It was a historic move made because there was no other alternative, given the GOP’s unprecedented abuse of the filibuster. In the history of the United States, 168 presidential nominees have been filibustered. Half occurred under all presidents from Washington through to Bush. Remarkably, the other half has taken place under just one president: Obama.

Why such aggressive judicial obstructionism by the GOP?

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. writes, “This era’s conservatives will use any means at their disposal to win control of the courts. Their goal is to do all they can to limit Congress’s ability to enact social reforms.”  

The Christian Right, which is the GOP’s most reliable and agitated voting bloc, is obsessed with the courts, and the Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit is the nation’s second most important judicial body, which is why Republicans “gave the game away when all but a few of them opposed Obama’s three most recent appointments.”

Now that Democrats were forced into limiting the filibuster, the Christian Right has its incentive to mobilize for 2014. A simple majority control of the Senate gives it an opportunity to pack the courts with judges straight out of the Justice Scalia mold, who once said that separation of church and state would come under scrutiny under a Supreme Court with a Scalia majority. If the Christian Right sweeps Republicans to control the Senate in next year’s midterms, the anti-secularists will take a big step forward toward their stated ideological goals.

The recent Values Voter Summit demonstrated that the likely 2016 GOP frontrunners have a base wish to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy — a nirvana absent gays, liberals, immigrants, Muslims and science books. The right-wing media elites are already doing their bit to gin up the far right’s judicial activists with Rush Limbaugh comparing filibuster reform to rape.

Truth in Action Ministries recently released a film titled Freedom on Trial, which features Robert Bork, the failed Reagan Supreme Court nominee, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, and Heritage Foundation vice president Genevieve Wood. The general theme of the documentary is that Christianity is under attack thanks to liberal “activist judges.” Bork warns that courts are “teaching the people that religion is evil,” while another conservative attorney claims decisions that go against the Ten Commandments will “destroy the country.”

President Obama’s judicial nominees were being filibustered because they threaten to alter the circuit court’s philosophical balance. The Republican Party has again demonstrated that nullification and obstruction are ready-made weapons to ensure the courts remain dominated by conservatives.


For Republicans to take back the Senate, they’ll need to win six seats. Given Democrats will need to defend 21 seats, compared to just 14 for the GOP, and that seven of those 21 Democratic seats are in states that lean Republican, expect the Christian Right to be the party’s primary water carrier in the midterms.

h/t: CJ Werleman at AlterNet

Rush Limbaugh invoked a rape analogy on Friday to criticize President Obama’s move to support filibuster reform.

On Thursday, Obama expressed his support for Senate Democrats voting to require just 51 votes — as opposed to 60 — approve judicial and executive nominees. Limbaugh compared them to a group of people where the majority decides it is okay to rape women.

"Let’s forget the Senate for a minute," Limbaugh began. He told his listeners to imagine a group of 10 people with six men and four women. "The group has a rule that the men cannot rape the women," he said. "The group also has a rule that says any rule that will be changed must require six votes, of the 10, to change the rule."

The radio host continued,

"Every now and then, some lunatic in the group proposes to change the rule to allow women to be raped. But they never were able to get six votes for it. There were always the four women voting against it and they always found two guys.Well, the guy that kept proposing that women be raped finally got tired of it, and he was in the majority and he was one that [said], ‘You know what? We’re going to change the rule. Now all we need is five." And well, ‘you can’t do that.’ ‘Yes we are. We’re the majority. We’re changing the rule.’ And then they vote. Can the women be raped? Well, all it would take then is half of the room. You can change the rule to say three. You can change the rule to say three people want it, it’s going to happen."

"When the majority can change the rules there aren’t any," Limbaugh concluded. He added that Obama was only changing the rule because he can’t get "what he wants democratically."

From the 11.22.2013 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:

See Also: MMFA: Limbaugh Defends Offensive Rape Comments By Hiding Behind “Absurdity” Defense

h/t: Huffington Post


Yesterday, after an extended and unbending campaign of obstruction by Senate Republicans, Democrats in the Senate invoked the so-called “nuclear option” and reduced the threshold for confirming most presidential nominees to a simple majority.

Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation, responded by urging Senate Republicans, if they take control of the Senate after next year’s elections, to “summarily reject” “every one of Obama’s appointees for everything” – a policy that would eventually bring federal agencies and courts to a standstill.

Of course, it was Tea Party Republicans’ blanket obstruction President Obama’s nominees that led to the rules change in the first place.

Hey, Judson, the GOP is NOT going to take the Senate back. 

h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW

h/t: HuffPost

Senate leaders struck a tentative deal in the 11th hour to confirm seven presidential nominees to executive positions without the use of the nuclear option.

In short, Republicans would confirm nominees to all seven positions, a big concession for the GOP. But in a concession for Democrats, they would replace two recess-appointed nominees to the National Labor Relations Board — Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, pictured below — with new nominees under the following condition: Republicans pledge to confirm any two replacements by President Obama to the board by Aug. 27.

The nominees who would be confirmed in the deal are Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Gina McCarthy for the Environmental Protection Agency, Tom Perez for the Labor Department and Fred Hochberg for the Export-Import Bank. Under the terms of the deal outlined by Reid’s office, Mark Pearce would be confirmed to the NLRB while Block and Griffin would be replaced.

The upcoming debate over confirmation of U.S. Principal Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan to the country’s second highest court is seen by Democrats as a pivotal moment in the interconnected debates over gridlock of judicial nominations and Senate filibuster rules.

Srinivasan, President Obama’s nominee to fill the seat vacated in 2005 by now-Chief Justice John Roberts on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, where Republicans intend to quiz him on his judicial temperament and views on the Constitution.

“We haven’t had a new person on that court since 2006 or [200]7. Some say it’s a court more important than the Supreme Court of the United States. [Republicans have] blocked … new people coming on that court,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters Tuesday. “We’re going to have this young man — we hope that that can be done very quickly.”

Republicans recently forced Obama to withdraw his prior nominee to the powerful court, Caitlin Halligan, by filibustering her confirmation back in 2011 and again last month. The White House and Democratic leaders view Srinivasan, who has broad support among legal stars across the ideological spectrum, as a test case for whether the GOP will permit any nominee to be confirmed or whether they’d rather maintain the court’s notoriously high vacancy rate in order to preserve its conservative lean.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pushed back on the accusations of GOP obstinacy, arguing that Republicans “have treated the president’s judicial nominees very, very fairly by any objective standard.”

“We just today confirmed the 10th judicial nomination of President Obama’s second term,” he told reporters Tuesday at his weekly briefing. “At this point in President Bush’s second term, he got zero judges. None. With regard to vacancies, about 75 percent of the vacancies that we have in the judiciary don’t even have nominees.”

All of those nominees were confirmed to courts less influential than the D.C. Circuit, where four of 11 active seats are vacant.

Reid has been ratcheting up the threats to weaken the filibuster with 51 votes mid-session if Republicans don’t ease up. If they filibuster Srinivasan — and they’ve offered no hints so far — Reid will face growing pressure to revisit the rules.

h/t: TPM DC

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin signaled Wednesday it may already be time to reopen the debate about the chamber’s rules, given Republicans have attempted to or plan to filibuster three presidential appointments in the month and a half since the chamber approved modest filibuster changes.

At the start of this Congress in January, Senate leaders reached a bipartisan agreement to slightly alter the chamber’s rules in a bid to make the Senate work more efficiently.

“We have tried at the beginning of this Senate session to avoid this kind of filibuster confrontation. The last several years we have had over 400 filibusters — a record number of filibusters in the Senate,” Durbin said.

“I hate to suggest this, but if this is an indication of where we’re headed, we need to revisit the rules again,” the Illinois Democrat said. “We need to go back to it again. I’m sorry to say it because I — was hopeful that a bipartisan approach to dealing with these issues would work.”

“It’s the best thing for this chamber, for the people serving here and the history of this institution,” Durbin said of the bipartisan arrangement. “But if this Caitlin Halligan nomination is an indication of things to come, we’ve got to revisit the rules.”

Halligan’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has been among the most contentious of President Barack Obama’s tenure. In 2011, she failed to garner the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican opposition in 2011, but Obama renominated her this year. Senate Republicans again successfully filibustered Halligan’s nomination Wednesday morning, by a vote of 51-41. Sixty votes were needed.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reiterated his opposition to Halligan on Wednesday morning.

“I’ll be voting against cloture on this nomination. I urge my colleagues to do the same,” McConnell said. “Our decision to do so is not unprecedented. Far from it. Many of our Democratic colleagues who are expressing shock and utter amazement that we would deny cloture on Ms. Halligan’s nomination a second time, felt absolutely no compunction about repeatedly denying cloture on Miguel Estrada’s nomination to the same court.”

In invoking Estrada’s name, McConnell is connecting Halligan to the most famous nominee of the judicial nomination feuds during the George W. Bush administration.

h/t: Roll Call

The Huffington Post reports that Senate Leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reached a deal today to support minor — and in some cases, temporary — changes to the Senate Rules,rather than push through the more robust reforms championed by many Democratic senators. The language of the deal, which is divided into two separate resolutions, is available here and here.


  • Republicans: The package creates a new process that gives Republicans the ability to offer two amendments on any bill that cannot be blocked by the Majority Leader, although there is a process by which consensus bills can be streamlined if a substantial number of Republicans consent. More importantly, however, by not including any real limits on the minority’s power to force 60 vote majorities on nearly any bill or nomination, Republicans retain their veto power over matters they wish to block.
  • District Judges: Currently, Senate rules allow the minority to force up to 30 hours of wasted time before a single nominee can be confirmed. Because Senate floor time is limited, this leads to many confirmations being delayed for months or killed entirely simply because the Majority Leader cannot afford to budget the time to move the nomination forward. The proposal reduces the amount of time that can be wasted while confirming a federal trial judge to 2 hours, significantly reducing the time cost of such confirmations.
  • Sub-Cabinet Officials: Meanwhile, the 30 hours of wasted time on sub-cabinet officials’ confirmation votes is reduced to 8 hours.


  • Circuit Judges, Supreme Court Justices & Cabinet Officials: The senior most Senate-confirmed jobs — justices, court of appeals judges and the most powerful executive branch officials — are still subject to 30 hours of delay.
  • The Tea Party: The package reduces the number of opportunities to obstruct a bill that is supported by the Minority Leader and at least 7 Republicans, meaning that senators like Rand Paul (R-KY) or Mike Lee (R-UT) will have fewer chances to block progress on matters that everyone but a few Tea Party extremists support.
  • The Future: The most significant changes in this package — the reduced hours for nominees and the two free amendments for the minority — sunset in two years and thus will cease to exist in the 114th Congress unless reinstated.

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

On the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell railed against his counterpart, Harry Reid, and a “cohort of short-sighted Senate sophomores,” for proposing to modify the Senate’s filibuster rules on the first day of the 113th Congress to limit the extent to which the minority can gum up legislative business.

“Does [Reid] believe that on the day he finds himself in the minority once again that he should no longer be heard?” McConnell asked, “Or does he think that Democrats will remain in the majority from now until the end of time?”

In a Monday interview, one of the supposedly short-sighted sophomores said, contra McConnell, the reforms Democrats are proposing could in theory go much farther, but are being designed with future power shifts in mind.

“The point I would make is that I’ve said from the outset is that a test of a good proposal is whether or not you could live with serving under it in the minority,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). “That’s why the talking filibuster is the right way to go. McConnell has broken the social contract. His team, under his leadership, uses it constantly and silently, out of public sight. Really the proposal I put forward restores the basic elements that existed in the past, and I’m quite happy to live under that structure as a minority. … [That] has been part of every conversation I’ve had with colleagues. … If we’re in the minority and we’re blocking something, we should be accountable to the public.”

Changes to the Senate rules are rare, typically minor, and usually require 67 votes be implemented. But Democrats can avail themselves of a complicated, arcane procedure in January and amend the rules as they choose with an easier 50-plus-one majority.

“If a bare majority can now proceed to any bill it chooses, and once on that bill, the majority leader, all by himself, can shut out all amendments that aren’t to his liking, then those who elected us to advocate for their views will have lost their voice in the legislative process,” McConnell said.

McConnell warned that Reid and fellow Democrats might come to regret the power move in future Congresses.

But two ideas have wide support in the Democratic caucus. The first, more cursory change, would make what’s known as the “motion to proceed” non-debatable. That means the minority could no longer block debate on legislation, while holding out for guarantees on amendment votes or legislative changes to the underlying bill.

The other would recreate a status quo ante, where filibustering senators would be required to hold the floor and draw public attention to their obstruction efforts. “If they want a filibuster, stand and talk about it,” Reid said.

That would still leave the GOP minority plenty of opportunities to obstruct — and Republicans are threatening to take them. But Reid, who opposed Merkley’s efforts in 2010, has come around, and conceded that his junior caucus members had it right all along. The only question now is whether Reid can round up 51 votes for establishing a precedent that could be used against his own party in future Congresses.

“The Republican leader thinks things are going well here. He’s in a distinct minority because things aren’t going well around here,” Reid said. “Lyndon Johnson: one cloture. Reid: 386. That says it all.”

h/t: Brian Beutler at TPM


Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren pledged to lead the Democratic effort on filibuster reform in the “first week in January” and suggested a new filibuster should look more like the traditional motion: A lawmaker should be required to defend his or her opposition to a bill on the Senate floor.

“On the first day of the new session in January, the senators will have a unique opportunity to change the filibuster rule with a majority vote, rather than the normal two-thirds vote. The change can be modest: If someone objects to a bill or a nomination in the United States Senate, they should have to stand on the floor of the chamber and defend their opposition,” she writes in a blog post published on the Huffington Post.

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