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.
But more than that, by changing the filibuster rules on lifetime appointments to the judiciary, what’s to stop any future majority leader from changing them for legislation? The Democrats would have no credibility when it comes to their outrage should Republicans take the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016 and invoke the Reid Rule to repeal not only Obamacare, but every piece of legislation Democrats passed in the Obama years. Moreover, they would be nothing more than speech machines while Republicans eliminated entire departments.
Imagine Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., eliminating the EPA, Department of Education and more while Democrats stood by with nothing but the bitter taste of karma in their mouths and the knowledge they did this to themselves. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound too bad.
If Republicans held the House of Representatives and took the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016, they could move to change the rules of the Senate to eliminate the filibuster completely, pass a constitutionally conservative agenda, and dramatically reduce the size and scope of government. Then, following the Reid Rule of a simple majority to change Senate rules at any time, create the McConnell Rule – vote to reinstate the filibuster and to change the rules of the Senate to require 75 votes to change Senate rules in the future. That would lock in those changes for essentially forever.
Of course that probably won’t happen, nor should it, but thanks to Harry Reid and the 51 other Democrats who voted this week to push the button on the “nuclear options,” it could.
Our Founding Fathers loathed the tyranny of the majority as much as that of a king. As such, they set up a system of government designed, as best they could, to prevent it. Individuals were empowered at birth to control the fate of their lives and the Constitution put the federal government in a small box to handle threats—internal and external—that threatened that empowerment. Over the last century, progressives in both parties chipped away at that box and allowed government to ooze into the lives of Americans in ways that are distinctly un-American. But the basic foundation of the box was at least still visible.
On Thursday, Harry Reid took a sledgehammer to a large portion of the foundation of that box by weakening the upper chamber of Congress and effectively turning the Senate into a more exclusive version of the House of Representatives. He did so to the cheers of his colleagues, his base, his party, the media and the president of the United States.
Knowing this, a “McConnell Rule” or something more dramatic one day in response to the actions of Democrats this week doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. Mutually Assured Destruction was the deterrent to the use of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, and the Democrats just pushed the button. They have to expect something to happen in response.