OPINION — The following statements summarize the frustration felt by Senate Republicans trying to confirm Trump cabinet nominees:
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 we can’t let it become normal.”
All too often, we’ve seen … senators choose to abuse arcane procedural tactics to … prevent well-qualified, patriotic Americans from filling critical positions of public service in our system of government.
Those concerns certainly apply today but both statements were made by then President Barack Obama in 2013.
Obama was justifying the action of Senate Democrats who had just changed filibuster rules. Now that the “future generations” to which Obama referred are here and the tables are turned, those statements and their consequences are coming back to haunt Democrats.
In fall 2013, Obama was trying to pack the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals with three more liberal judges who would rubber stamp his agenda.
The D.C. circuit is the nation’s primary regulatory court, responsible for passing judgment on “many of the federal government’s most expensive and far-reaching regulations,” David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman wrote in a report for The Hill, Nov. 1, 2013. But that court has the lightest workload of any appeals court and three additional judges were not needed.
Unable to get his ultraliberal agenda through the Republican House, Obama planned to bypass Congress, substituting regulation for legislation. The D.C. circuit court was as important to him as the Supreme Court.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans used the filibuster to stymie the circuit court nominations, prompting Obama’s quotes above.
Democrats reacted by making the biggest change in Senate rules in a generation: They effectively eliminated the filibuster for 1,183 executive and judicial branch positions requiring Senate confirmation. Only Supreme Court nominations remained subject to the filibuster.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, responded: “I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this. And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”
Now only three years later, Democratic regrets are here big time.
No longer able to block Trump’s nominees, Senate Democrats have resorted to unprecedented stunts like refusing to show up at committee hearings and knowingly violating Senate rules and decorum. Democratic tactics remind me of a spoiled child who can’t get her way saying “I’m taking my dolly and going home.” So much for what had long been called the world’s greatest deliberative body.
Only Supreme Court nominations remain subject to the Senate’s filibuster rules. But as the New York Times wrote in a 2013 editorial, “Now that the Senate has begun to tear down undemocratic procedures, the precedent set on Thursday (Nov. 21, 2013) will increase the pressure to end those filibusters, too.”
With the shoe now on the Republican foot, the hypocritical paper has changed its tune, according to an op-ed by Richard Arenberg published Jan. 4, and is very much in favor of what it previously called “undemocratic procedures.”
Last October, Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine weighed in on the filibuster. Clearly expecting a Democratic sweep and a Republican filibuster of a future Supreme Court nominee, he said: “If these guys think they’re going to stonewall the filling of that vacancy or other vacancies, then a Democratic Senate majority will say, ‘We’re not going to let you thwart the law.’”
By Kaine’s standard, Democrats are “thwarting the law” by obstructing almost all of Trump’s nominees.
In contrast, a number of Republican senators voted with Democrats in approving all of today’s Supreme Court liberals: Ginsburg 96-3, Breyer 87-9, Sotomayor 68-31, and Kagan 63-37. Asked why he voted for Obama’s nominees, the conservative South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “How do we get our judges, and they don’t get theirs?” according to an April 2014 GreenvilleOnline news report.
Now Republicans want theirs. President Trump has nominated highly qualified Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. He wouldn’t change the court’s liberal/conservative balance since he’s replacing conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Gorsuch was confirmed to the appellate court in 2006 by a Senate vote of 97-0. Affirmative votes came from four Senators who later served in the Obama administration (Obama, Biden, Clinton and Kerry) along with 12 Democrats currently serving in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell hopes for enough Democratic support to retain the filibuster and to return a modicum of civility to the Senate. He said, “There are any number of ways this could end, but what I will tell you is we are going to get this judge confirmed. How that occurs will depend largely on how the other side handles it.”
Democrats would be wise to preserve the filibuster now if only to have a chance to get a moderate if another seat becomes vacant. But since the Democrats eliminated the filibuster for 1,183 positions for partisan short-term gain, they have little basis to complain if the Republicans find themselves obliged to follow the New York Times’ 2013 advice and eliminate it completely.
My prediction: Expect to see Democratic hypocrisy, backtracking and partisan politics as Gorsuch is considered.
Many conservatives, including me, believe that establishing a solid conservative presence on the Supreme Court is the most important and lasting thing Trump can do. It is the only reason many conservatives voted for him.
Obama smugly told Republicans in 2009, “Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won.”
Now it’s time for Democrats to remember who won the last election: the American people.
Howard Sierer is a developing columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.