Are Harry Reid’s Threats Working?

Item: Sri Srinivasan was confirmed for the DC Circuit Court, the first Obama pick to reach that important bench.

Item: District Judge nominee William Orrick was confirmed 56-41 on May 15 (with two Democrats and one Republican missing the vote); no cloture vote was taken. There was also a minor executive branch confirmation a week before that with a 53-45 vote, also without a cloture vote.

Item: Rob Portman is apparently trying to cut a deal on the Cordray nomination for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the “nullification” blockade filibusters. In the Roll Call article, he’s supposedly only asking for an Inspector General (something that Democrats would almost certainly be glad to give him), rather than for the restructuring that Republicans have been demanding as the price for letting any nominee through. I agree with David Dayen’s skepticism that Republicans really would do that deal, but for whatever it’s worth, that’s the report.

Put it all together, and do you have evidence that Republicans are actually moving a bit in response to Harry Reid’s threats to go nuclear?

To tell the truth…I’m not sure. A Cordray deal the Democrats could live with would be a major GOP loss, but that’s pretty much at the rumor stage at best. The two nominations without 60…that’s something we’ve seen in the past, too, and remember that we’re talking here about a District Court nominee (where several Republicans have been reluctant to take the filibuster) and another obscure one. The Srinivasan confirmation, and in fact that’s one of six appeals court judges confirmed this year against one killed by filibuster, is certainly a positive step, but again it’s not as if Republicans have ever blocked absolutely everything, so it’s very tricky to know what’s a retreat and what’s just business as usual.

And certainly there’s no shortage of current filibusters and threats of filibusters. It’s hardly the case that Republicans have full-out retreated.

As I said earlier today over at PP, we just don’t know yet how much of Republican talk about the remaining DC Circuit nominees (assuming that actually happens) is bluff, and how much of it is real. Nor do we know whether nominees for Labor and EPA will get five Republican votes for cloture. My best guess is that one or two of this group — CFPB, Labor, EPA, DC Circuit — will be killed by filibuster, and the other four or five will just barely make it…and that this will be just enough to avoid the nukes. But that’s a guess!

I know that a lot of liberals believe that Republicans simply will not back down at all. That might be true, but there’s just no way to know right now.

Which is why what Reid’s been doing — keeping the threat of majority-imposed reform alive and increasing it as needed — is the right strategy.

At any rate, I guess we’re going to know a lot more in a few weeks.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.