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May 24, 2005

Nuclear Winter of Our Discontent

By Andrea Meyer

I agree with Byron when I say that I am not too happy with this compromise. 100%. Bush's extremist nominees basically get a green light, and only in "extraordinary circumstances" does the minority get to filibuster. I'm sorry, but at whose discretion? Who is to say what are extraordinary circumstances? According to Daily Kos, one of my favorite Senators, Russ Feingold, D-WI, isn't exactly basking in the afterglow of the Dems and Repubs hopping into bed together:

This is not a good deal for the U.S. Senate or for the American people. Democrats should have stood together firmly against the bullying tactics of the Republican leadership abusing their power as they control both houses of Congress and the White House. Confirming unacceptable judicial nominations is simply a green light for the Bush administration to send more nominees who lack the judicial temperament or record to serve in these lifetime positions. I value the many traditions of the Senate, including the tradition of bipartisanship to forge consensus. I do not, however, value threatening to disregard an important Senate tradition, like occasional unlimited debate, when necessary. I respect all my colleagues very much who thought to end this playground squabble over judges, but I am disappointed in this deal.

Well said, Senator. I hope to send my resume to you in '08--if Dems are still allowed to run for the presidency.

Let's look at this "deal": (Quoted from the AP, courtesy of Yahoo!)

The agreement, which applies to Supreme Court nominees, said future judicial nominations should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances," with each Democratic senator holding the discretion to decide when those conditions had been met.

Priscilla Owen, considered a wing-nut by extremists in her own party, is not an extraordinary circumstance? And it us up to each Democratic senator? Really? and what exactly are the qualifications for an "extraordinary circumstance?" I suppose the Republicans will dictate protocol, and milquetoast moderates "leading" our party will concede to those as well.

"In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement," Republicans said they would oppose any attempt to make changes in the application of filibuster rules. But Sen. Mike DeWine (news, bio, voting record), R-Ohio, said the agreement was conditional on Democrats upholding their end of the deal"

So, close monitoring, filibusters only allowed after close monitoring by the majority. They don't like how we use the filibuster, and they'll take it away? Is that what my former senator meant? I really don't like the sounds of this, to be honest.

Folks, don't get me wrong--I am happy that some spirit of bipartisanship still exists in the Senate. I am thrilled that Bill Frist looks bad. However, I think this compromise delivered a hollow victory. The filibuster, to be used under terms that are still vague, is damaged goods. Did Frist really have the votes he needed? Maybe, maybe not.

I listened to a lot of impassioned speeches regarding this issue over the past few days. I listened to great orators such as Kennedy, Baucus, and other patriots that were prepared to go down fighting. Although Byrd was an architect of this deal, he gave a great speech yesterday. There is a reason people like Kennedy are considered the lions of the Senate. I am saddened by what our Senate has become, however. It is a place where the Republican party, once great, has continually used as a forum to abuse their power, bully the minority (who still has rights, by the way), and break rules. What makes me sadder is that they continue to get away with it.

I know most of y'all will not agree with me. I know that a couple of other BOR bloggers will be quick to recite the GOP talking points, and that certain regular posters will leave their trollish, Freeper remarks. Honestly, go ahead. I'm one of the few Democrats who is willing to stand up for my beliefs, and that is what helps me look in the mirror in the morning.

This deal smells rotten, like the post-coital cigarette the White House is undoubtedly enjoying right now. Hopefully, when the terms become clearer, the picture will be rosier. Or it will appear as such until we take off those glasses and see the barren, nulcear winter wasteland once known as a free and open republic. Only time will tell. Let's hope we don't need those glasses.

Posted by Andrea Meyer at May 24, 2005 05:53 AM | TrackBack


I'd like to apologize for the type--I have no idea what is up with the font, etc.

Posted by: Andrea Meyer at May 24, 2005 06:35 AM

Believe me, there are plenty of conservatives that are just as pissed. Go check out National Review or Powerline.

I take that as a good thing. If both the hard right and the hard left are not happy, then they did something right, IMO.

Posted by: Drew at May 24, 2005 07:13 AM

Senator Reid:

"Attempts to trample the Constitution and grab absolute control are over."

Neville Chaimberlain:

"I believe it is peace in our time."

Don't get me wrong. Normally, I love compromises. Senators are supposed to work towards a middle ground and compromise.

But this is not a compromise - it is appeasement. The nuclear option was a threat. It was a successful threat and there's nothing to guarantee that Frist will not use the threat again to achieve his ends when other federal court nominees or Supreme Court nominees are brought before a vote.

Yes, a showdown with the nuclear option might have been disastrous - we might have lost the filibuster. But if we lose the filibuster, it will be because we did not have enough votes to stop the Senate from breaking it's own rules - that will not change a month or two months down the road when they pull this stunt again.

We just ceded Czechoslovakia. This hasn't stopped a "nuclear option" showdown, merely delayed it, and we are in a much worse-off position when it finally comes.

Posted by: Brian Boyko at May 24, 2005 08:03 AM

So the agreement only says they've invoked cloture on the 3 nominees that everyone hates, that just means that they get up/down votes. Does anyone have any idea how many Republicans, especially the Centrists, will vote against these nominees?

Posted by: Matt Bradbury at May 24, 2005 12:57 PM

I think that this compromise is a good thing. The filibuster is saved, that is the most important thing. Frankly, I never thought Pryor should be filibustered, the guy has deep religious beliefs but he promised to judge on the law. I was skeptical until he swiftly and unflinchingly removed Roy Moore from the bench for his demagoguery.

Those who whine about this deal would've hated the Senate back in the Webster-Calhoun-Clay era...

Posted by: Andrew Dobbs at May 24, 2005 01:05 PM

James Dobson's reaction to this most frangible deal, which won't hold, makes it almost (almost) worthwhile:
"This Senate agreement represents a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats," Dobson said. "Only three of President Bush's nominees will be given the courtesy of an up-or-down vote, and it's business as usual for all the rest. The rules that blocked conservative nominees remain in effect, and nothing of significance has changed.

"Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist would never have served on the U. S. Supreme Court if this agreement had been in place during their confirmations. The unconstitutional filibuster survives in the arsenal of Senate liberals.

"We are grateful to Majority Leader Frist for courageously fighting to defend the vital principle of basic fairness," Dobson added. "That principle has now gone down to defeat.

We share the disappointment, outrage and sense of abandonment felt by millions of conservative Americans who helped put Republicans in power last November. I am certain that these voters will remember both Democrats and Republicans who betrayed their trust." (from redstate.org)

Posted by: Robert Gordon Durst at May 24, 2005 01:57 PM

Seems to me one of the biggest losers in this deal is Senator Cornyn, who was whining on the Senate floor about (a)not being included in drafting the agreement and (b) how bad the agreement is.

Cornyn has made himself irrelevant in the Senate by cozying up to Dobson and Frist, and has missed out on the group of new Senate power brokers. Texans will tolerate a lot of things, but irrelevance and a lack of independence are not characteristics we prize in our Senators.

Posted by: Othniel at May 24, 2005 02:26 PM

Don't underestimate the value of delay in politics. Unlike appeasement in war, a Republican campaign like the nuclear option requires enormous political capital. You have to mobilize public support, control media coverage, and hold the attentions and sympathies of a fickle public. A compromise and a significant delay breaks the momentum, and now the campaign is left with a press eager to cover something else, a short-attentioned public who thinks the issue is over (and therefore, effectively is), and in this case, a significant portion of voters who are frankly tired and unsympathetic with the issue (look at the polling lately on the filibuster - the fact that an arcane, procedural issue draws as much as +20 disapproval ratings indicates there wasn't much political capital left). Plus, Frist's internal power suffered, and the sharks are circling - plenty of GOP Senators have got to smell Frist's vulnerability after his third or fourth major leadership defeat in just a few years and want his post.

A real effort to re-mobilize the nuclear option would be expensive, time-consuming, and working against renewed inertia. Moreover, Republican strategists would do well to remember that any issue hammered at too many times at the expense of others creates fatigue and backlash - look at Lewinsky and the 1998 mid-term elections. The GOP is already facing an uphill fight for 2006, and making their record nothing but massive, fruitless efforts on the filibuster and social security isn't good politics. Come election year, voters ask what have you done for me recently, and two high-profile programs that went nowhere, especially one that has no immediate impact on anybody's lives, isn't a great record to run on.

There are only a matter of months before election season kicks into high gear. The GOP record needs to show major initiatives passed between last November and then. This time, there's no big education bill, big Medicare bill (bad in our eyes, but accomplishments nonetheless). Iraq is fading from public view (and what news there is has been very bad). GOP legislators have got to be a little fed up with serving their leaders' agendas exclusively, especially given that many of them are Frist's rivals for the leadership and for the Presidential nomination.

I think this compromise is a de facto return to the status quo in exchange for the one time measure of an up or down votes on three nominees. We lose four bad ones - Saad, Myers, Kavanaughm, and Haynes. After that, there won't be the political ability to enforce the definition of "extraordinary circumstances." Without another credible threat from a united nuclear option effort, Dems will be just as able to filibuster the next bad nominee. After all, we're the ones who get to say who is extreme - it's not like we weren't already claiming extraordinary circumstances anyway. Looked at this way, it's easy for any future filibuster to just say, look, our interpretation of the agreement was that Brown, Owen, and Pryor were given votes notwithstanding their extraordinary badness, but that was the price we paid so the terms of the filibuster wouldn't change. I think that's how the leadership understands it - Reid's statement about the Supreme Court sounded to me pretty much like a declaration that we have full flexibility to filibuster that seat.

Posted by: Ramey at May 24, 2005 06:19 PM
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