Suzy Khimm has some good reporting on the current state of executive branch appointments. As she says, it’s a bit of a muddle right now, with some hints that Republicans will retaliate for Barack Obama’s recent recess appointments, and some hints that it’s the GOP that will back down.
Here’s my prediction: for the most part, Republicans will mostly keep their current obstruction level the same. They’ll still insist on 60 votes on most nominations, and still use holds to slow many nominations, but they’ll still cut deals to allow some appointments to get to final votes.
Why? Khimm has some of the reasons — in part, it’s because Obama has already been compromising by selecting people who Republicans actually want for some positions. It’s also true that if Republicans believe that they will capture the White House and the Senate next year, they might want to avoid setting an even worse precedent than they already have (yes, I know a lot of people believe that Republicans will simply eliminate the filibuster in that case, but for individual Senators that’s not an ideal solution, and it’s not at all clear it would happen — after all, it didn’t during George W. Bush’s presidency).
The other way to look at it, however, it that the situation just hasn’t changed much, and if it has it’s in the White House’s favor. After all, Republicans presumably didn’t increase their obstruction last year because it wasn’t in their interest to do so, for whatever reasons. It wasn’t because they were being nice, or because they hadn’t yet decided that Obama was a Kenyan socialist who had to be stopped. Nothing, then, has changed that calculus. Moreover, if part of the reason for their restraint (such as it is, which of course wasn’t much) was presumably fear that if they pushed too hard, he would negate that obstruction with recess appointments. That’s still the case! After all, Obama so far has only used extraordinary recess appointments in extraordinary cases (the so-called nullification cases). He could easily extend that to lots of other offices, however, and having done it once there’s a lot less constraint on him doing so.
Granted, people don’t always do what’s in their best interests, and so a bit of a tantrum for a while isn’t surprising. But soon enough, Republicans are likely to realize that they now have more of an incentive to cut deals, not less.
[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]