Democrats vote to curb Senate filibusters on disputed appointees
WASHINGTON — Sweeping aside a century of precedent, Democrats took a chunk out of the Senate's hallowed filibuster tradition on Thursday and cleared the way for speedy confirmation of controversial appointments to be made by President Obama and his successors.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who orchestrated the change, called the 52-48 vote a blow against gridlock. Republicans warned Democrats will eventually regret their actions once political fortunes are reversed and they no longer can block appointments made by a GOP president.
Obama welcomed the shift. “The gears of government have got to work,” he said, and he declared that Republicans had increasingly used existing rules “as a reckless and relentless tool to grind all business to a halt.”
But Republicans warned of a power grab by Democrats, some predicting that the worse is yet to come.
“This drastic move sets a dangerous precedent that could later be expanded to speed passage of expansive and controversial legislation,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
The day's change involved presidential appointees, not legislation — and not Supreme Court nominees.
The immediate impact was to ensure post-Thanksgiving confirmation for Patricia Millett, one of Obama's three stalled nominees for the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, and for others whom Republicans have blocked. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., selected to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, is among them.
The longer-term result of the unilateral move by Democrats was harder to gauge in a Senate that has grown deeply constrained by the major political differences emblematic of an era of divided government.
At issue was a rule that has required a 60-vote majority to end debate in the 100-member Senate and assure a yes-or-no vote on presidential nominees to federal courts or to Cabinet departments or other agencies.
Under a parliamentary maneuver scripted in advance, Democrats changed the proceedings so that only a simple majority was required to clear the way for a final vote. In Senate-speak, this was accomplished by establishing a new precedent under the rules, rather than a formal rules change.
Supreme Court nominations still will be subject to a traditional filibuster, the term used to describe the 60-vote requirement to limit debate.
The day's events capped more than a decade of struggle over judicial nominations, in which first President George W. Bush found his appointees stalled by Senate Democrats, and more recently Obama has complained that Republicans have been delaying or preventing confirmation for his picks.
The vote adds to the list of issues likely to figure in next year's congressional elections. In a fundraising appeal emailed a few hours after the vote, the Senate Republicans' campaign organization asked for donations. It warned that “Democrats are going to pack Obama's liberal judges on the federal courts,” and sought donations to “throw these hacks out of office.”
On Thursday, in a certain sign that a showdown was imminent, senators filed into the Senate chamber at midmorning in unusual numbers. They listened from their desks as Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., swapped accusations that preceded a series of votes on arcane parliamentary points. Yet there was no suspense about the final outcome.
McConnell said Republicans had grown tired of threats of action. “We're not interested in having a gun put to our head any longer,” he said, noting that Democrats have periodically talked of changing the rules in recent months.
Still, the events marked a reversal for Reid, who had threatened earlier in the year to change the application of filibuster rules for nominees to Cabinet departments and other agencies, but not for appointments to the courts.
Back then, he and McCon-nell clashed in highly personal, accusatory terms. This time, they recited their grievances in an exchange that was courteous if sharply worded.
“In the history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominees. Half of them have occurred during the Obama administration — during the last four and a half years,” Reid said.
Reid accused the GOP of “unbreakable, unprecedented obstruction.” He said Republicans had blocked qualified appointees “to force wholesale changes to laws ... to restructure entire executive branch departments” and because they don't want Obama “to appoint any judges to certain courts.”
McConnell said Republicans had allowed confirmation of 99 percent of Obama's appointments to the courts.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pope Francis’ lack of familiarity with United States unusual
- Obama inches closer to veto-proof support for Iran nuclear deal
- Supreme Court can resolve Kentucky county clerk’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to gays
- Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Fischer open to interest rate hike
- Court lifts injunction against NSA call records program
- Thousands in New Orleans became targets of unscrupulous contractors
- Man arrested in deputy’s ambush
- New Orleans slow to heal 10 years after Hurricane Katrina
- New York City police kill bystander in undercover gun buy
- Long Island college student arrested for trying to record police, civil liberties experts say
- Will Trump run as independent? He says decision will be made soon