After nearly five years of Republican senators obstructing Democratic legislation and appointees at every opportunity, Harry Reid and the Senate majority voted Thursday to change the chamber’s rules to allow simple majority votes on executive and judicial appointees (with the exception of the Supreme Court). Politicians and analysts called it the nuclear option. Wrong. It was the logical option.
First, the filibuster survives. If a Republican (or, someday, Democratic) minority wants to gum up the works and debate something to death, it will be able to do so. This was a procedural matter.
Second, Republicans previously have advocated similar actions against far less obstructionist Democrats. Yes, Democrats objected then. But the hyperbole of Republicans like John McCain, who said Thursday that now “there are no rules” in the Senate, reveal utter hypocrisy and dishonesty. It also suggests that they sense their own obsolescence. Just three Democrats voted to keep the old rules; if Republicans cannot persuade six members of the Democratic caucus to see things their way, their arguments must not hold much water.
Third, Reid is far from celebrating. This move goes against almost everything he believes, except the ideas of majority rule and open debate. He came to the Senate in 1987, when the likes of Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy were there to recall earlier days of comity, but also civil rights filibusters. Reid didn’t want to change the institution, but he had to.
Fourth, Reid and Senate Democrats have waited a long time to take this step. The discussion has gone on throughout the Obama administration as Republicans have obstructed nominees and legislation to an unprecedented degree. Their unwillingness to even consider qualified appointees, blocking debate from reaching the Senate floor, was very different from simply voting against a nominee.
The turning point came with the blocking of three qualified nominees for the Second Judicial Circuit, which has needed new judges for several years, amid GOP charges that Obama was trying to pack the court with radicals. The backs of 52 Democratic camels finally had taken on too much straw. Those who blame Reid for a change they dislike really need to look in the mirror.
What do you think about the major change made to Senate rules Thursday? Tell us in the comments.