At WaPo’s Plum Line today, Greg Sargent reports what he’s hearing from Harry Reid’s folks on the Senate leader’s strategy for dealing with Republican filibusters of nominees, and Jonathan Bernstein game-plans it all out. It’s all interesting and provides relatively good news, but I have to say I’m not as excited as the Post guys just yet.
Sargent reports that once Senate action on immigration is completed (theoretically in June), he’ll invoke the “nuclear option” with a majority-vote-sustained rules change that eliminates the right to filibuster on executive-branch or judicial nominations, if in the meantime Republicans have filibustered three particular nominations: Richard Cordray (who is supposed to get a vote next week), Thomas Perez (who has been cleared by the Senate HELP Committee on a party-line vote) and Gina McCarthy (cleared by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on a party-line vote). It’s not clear whether Reid will insist Republicans have to let all three go through without a filibuster, or just one or two, and whether they can avoid the “nuclear option” by “pulling their punches” to give the nominees 60 votes. It’s also unclear whether Reid’s demands for better behavior will extend beyond these three nominees.
Bernstein describes Reid’s strategy here as part of a complex chess game whereby Reid keeps publicly threatening the “nuclear option” while Senate Republicans figure out what they can “get away with.” The President is reportedly “on board,” which is important less because Reid needs his public support than because some obstructionist efforts on nominations are clearly aimed at securing concessions from the president: notably with respect to McCarthy, whose nomination is being linked to assurances EPA won’t issue climate-change regulations any time soon, and/or to presidential approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Now determining what Republican senators can “get away with” ultimately depends on how far Reid himself–never a big enthusiast for filibuster reform–is willing to go, and how many Democratic votes he has to back up a particular threat. If it turns out letting a couple of the identified nominations “go through” with a pulled-punch filibuster is the actual circuit-breaker for calling off the “nuclear threat,” and/or if Republicans are rewarded with presidential favors for “playing ball,” then I won’t be joining any victory celebrations, particularly if it means the “nuclear threat” is off the table (as it is apparently already off the table for filibusters of regular legislation) for the foreseeable future.
Still, this whole discussion is encouraging to anyone who rightly feared filibuster reform efforts had ended with the watery “agreement” Reid reached with Mitch McConnell back in January. And any progressive who is or can get into touch with a Democratic senator should keep the pressure on for maximum audacity on this front. The 60-vote Senate that’s emerged since 2008 represents a fundamental shift in how the federal government operates. I’d personally like to see the filibuster killed once and for all (filibuster delenda est!) but since that ain’t happening real soon, we can only hope Harry Reid isn’t bluffing this time and will push reform as far as it can go.