Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard by now that 52 Senate Democrats voted to end the filibuster for executive branch and judicial nominees after eight years of employing it against President George W. Bush. The hypocrisy is award-worthy. And unless you can’t get cable or radio signals under that rock, you’ve no doubt heard clips from 2005 of every prominent Democrat speaking on the sanctity of the filibuster and against the “nuclear option,” and every prominent Republican saying the opposite. Control of the Senate and White House has flipped since then, and the scripts have too. But here’s a quote from Sept. 12, 2008, you may not have heard.
On CSPAN’s Book TV, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was asked by former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., if he’d ever invoke the “nuclear option” himself. His answer told us as much about his motives as it did about his hypocrisy this week.
Here was his answer: “As long as I am the Leader, the answer is no. I think we should just forget that, that is a black chapter in the history of the Senate. I hope we never, ever get to that again because I really do believe it will ruin our country.” (Watch the whole two-minute clip for yourself here.)
So what does that mean? Well, a direct interpretation of that statement means Harry Reid deliberately acted in a way he “really” believes will, in his own words, “ruin our country.” That’s not hyperbole; that’s what he said. But in a more cynical sense, it means Harry Reid, a man with a past that would make even the most corrupt politician blush, just made himself the only senator with any real power to fill presidential political appointees and judicial vacancies.
The filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to proceed to a vote on a nominee, meant a nominee generally needed at least some support from both political parties to be confirmed. Now, nominees need support from only one man – the Senate majority leader.
If the majority leader simply can hold 51 members of his caucus together when they are of the same party as the president, or any 51 when they are not, the leader will be the only member of the Senate with any power to perform the “advise and consent” aspect of the body’s constitutional duty. This gives the majority leader enormous power and influence over the executive branch.
What could a majority leader extort from a president, any president, to move on nominees? What influence over the selection of those nominees could future majority leaders exercise? The possibilities are endless.