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Senate Democrats use Nuclear Option Changing Filibuster Rules

Posted by Steve Markowitz on November 21, 2013

One unique procedural practice that has been part of the United States Senate since its inception is the filibuster.  Unlike the House of Representatives, through the filibuster the U.S. Senate requires more than a simple majority for various matters to be brought to the floor.  This includes approval of various presidential appointments.

The filibuster was procedure was given to the Senate by the Founding Fathers to offer the minority party more power for certain legislative matters.  The current minority party the Senate, the Republicans, have been using the filibuster to block or delay three Obama judicial appointments.

Today Senate Democrats changed the long-standing rules implementing the so-called “nuclear option” that removed the filibuster from Republicans. That decision was supported by President Obama who justified the action blaming Republicans stating: “A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to re-fight the results of an election is not normal, and for the sake of future generations, it cannot become normal.”

Once again the President has flip-flopped on a significant position for political expediency.  It is interesting to review the words of then Senators Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Harry Reid in 2005 when they were the minority party:

Senator Barack Obama, April, 2005: “Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to think about the implications of what has been called the nuclear option and what effect that might have on this Chamber and on this country.  I urge all of us to think not just about winning every debate but about protecting free and democratic debate.”

The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.”

Senator Joe Biden, May, 2005: “Mr. President, my friends and colleagues, I have not been here as long as Senator Byrd, and no one fully understands the Senate as well as Senator Byrd, but I have been here for over three decades.  This is the single most significant vote any one of us will cast in my 32 years in the Senate.  I suspect the Senator would agree with that.  We should make no mistake.  This nuclear option is ultimately an example of the arrogance of power.  It is a fundamental power grab by the majority party, propelled by its extreme right and designed to change the reading of the Constitution, particularly as it relates to individual rights and property rights. It is nothing more or nothing less. …  We have been through these periods before in American history but never, to the best of my knowledge, has any party been so bold as to fundamentally attempt to change the structure of this body.”

Senator Harry Reid, May, 2005: “The filibuster is not a scheme and it certainly isn’t new.  The filibuster is far from a procedural gimmick.  It’s part of the fabric of this institution we call the Senate.  It was well-known in colonial legislatures before we became a country, and it’s an integral part of our country’s 214-year history. The first filibuster in the United States Congress happened in 1790. It was used by lawmakers from Virginia and South Carolina who were trying to prevent Philadelphia from hosting the first Congress.  Since then, the filibuster has been employed hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times.  It’s been employed on legislative matters, it’s been employed on procedural matters relating to the president’s nominations for Cabinet and sub-Cabinet posts, and it’s been used on judges for all those years.  One scholar estimates that 20 percent of the judges nominated by presidents have fallen by the wayside, most of them as a result of filibusters.  Senators have used the filibuster to stand up to popular presidents, to block legislation, and, yes, even, as I’ve stated, to stall executive nominees.  The roots of the filibuster are found in the Constitution and in our own rules.”


Then Senator Joe Biden went further asking for divine intervention in future years stating: “I pray God when the Democrats take back control, we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.  But I am afraid you will teach my new colleagues the wrong lessons.”  It would be curious to hear who Foot-in-Mouth Joe would blame for Reid’s indiscretion.

The Senate rule change is a tactical victory for Democrats allowing the Obama’s judicial appointments to be approved quickly and without making compromises with minority party.  There is some logical justification to allow a President elected by the People to make appointments as he sees fit.  However, this tactical victory has the potential to lead to a more significant strategic victory for Republicans.  Given the dismal failure of Obamacare and the downward spiral of this presidency, the chance of Republicans taking back control of both houses of Congress and the presidency is growing by the day.  Should this occur, it will offer a unique opportunity for Republicans to significantly change the Progressive direction of American politics.


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