Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Thursday, April 6th, 2017.

Senate Republicans Clear the Nuclear Option

Trump Maladministration

Two big news items already this morning. One, “House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) will temporarily step aside from an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including interactions between Moscow and the Trump campaign,” Politico says.

But don’t get excited: “The Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation will be taken over by Reps. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.).” Meh.

The other items is that the Democrats blocked Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court from advancing in the Senate under the old rules. Senate Republicans have already voted to pull the plug on Senate filibuster rules so that Gorsuch can be confirmed with a simple majority vote.

Gorsuch is expected to be confirmed tomorrow with 52 Republican votes, plus the votes of three Democrats — Joe Manchin (WV), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and Joe Donnelly (IN). Remember those names. I believe all three of them are up for re-election in 2018.

There is considerable hand-wringing going on about how awful it is that Democrats are doing this awful thing. The more I hear about Gorsuch, however, the more I think he will be a disaster. There’s no point waiting for a worse crisis to blow up the Senate; he’s bad enough.

At the NY Times, Steven Waldman makes a good argument that we might all be better off without the filibuster, or at least what the filibuster has become.

In truth, eliminating the filibuster would be a minor change compared with the problem that such a move would solve: the recent rise of a system based on supermajority rule rather than majority rule.

Of course, the modern filibuster doesn’t require senators to give speeches through the night. It’s all very abstract; in the case of nonspending bills, the minority party simply lets it be known that it has enough votes to block the legislation.

In effect, the minority party now gets to decide when a bill should require 60 votes instead of 51.

The switch to supermajority rule happened without a constitutional amendment, without a national debate, without its even becoming a major issue in a presidential campaign. Because it happened gradually, we didn’t fully appreciate: The 788 filibusters since 2007 — those were the “nuclear” moments. …

… Under the filibuster rules in place at the time of the New Deal, Republicans could have blocked the Security Exchange Act, the National Labor Relations Act and the Tennessee Valley Authority, according to the journalist Charles Peters’s new book, “We Do Our Part.”

And if the Senate had been operating under majority rule during the Obama and Bush administrations, the following bills would have gained Senate approval: the Toomey-Manchin background check bill for guns; the provision allowing people to have a “public option” for health care on the Obamacare exchanges; comprehensive immigration reform; an increase in the minimum wage; and the bipartisan campaign finance bill, called the Disclose Act.

The Democrats, Waldman argues, have been entirely too nice. They should have ended the filibuster years ago, when they had the chance.

To clarify, Republicans today only killed the filibuster as it relates to Supreme Court nominees. But Waldman argues that the whole thing should be done away with. And let the chips fall.

I’m sure there are good arguments for the other side, but “keep your powder dry” isn’t one of them. At Vox, Dylan Matthews argues that maybe Democrats should allow Gorsuch to be approved so that they might be able to stop the next right-wing judge from being appointed. But I don’t see the sense of that. Republicans would just pull the trigger on the filibuster next time. What’s the point?

Our only real hope of the complete takeover of SCOTUS is to hope the Dems take back the Senate in 2018 and that no other justice dies or resigns before then. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what the Dems do now. Republicans will ram through their judges any way they can.

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