Republicans control the Senate by a 52-48 margin.
Because of a rules change installed by the former Democratic Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, Presidential nominations cannot be filibustered. They no longer need 60 votes. As we learned earlier this week when Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education, 51 is enough.
Nominations for Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court still need 60 votes.
Two things: First, Article I, Section 3, Clause 4 of the Constitution states:
"The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided."
Meaning the VP only votes if there is a tie to break which VP Mike Spence did when the Senate voted 50-50 to confirm Mrs. DeVos.
The cable nets were all agog because this was the FIRST TIME IN AMERICAN HISTORY that a Vice President voted to break a tie for a Presidential nominee.
Yeah, well here's the deal. Since 1789, 35 different Vice Presidents have voted to break Senate ties 244 times.
Since the beginning of the first term of Ronald Reagan here are the stats:
George H.W. Bush - 7 tie breakers
Dan Quayle - 0
Al Gore - 8
Dick Cheney - 5
Joe Biden - 0
Mike Pence - 1
Second thing, the Democrats know they can't stop President Donald Trump's nominees, but they are working their constituents back home. They are making it as difficult as possible for the nominations to go through.
They are, in effect, saying: Look, we're two votes short on every vote. We can't beat them but we can make them use up a lot of energy getting these nominations through, so give us credit for that.
Fair enough. Good strategy.
Of course, it ignores the fact that no one - NO one - thought the GOP would open the 115th Congress maintaining its majority. It is another example of the total collapse of the Democratic electoral machine in the 2016 cycle.
But, we are where we are.
So, the Democrats do an all night session to protest against Betsy DeVos becoming Secretary of Education. They get a lot of coverage in the New York Times and Washington Post for that, so they decide to do it again to slow walk the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General.
At some point, I believe, some of the Republican Senators who are "in cycle" meaning they are up for re-election in 2018, went to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and said: "We're getting killed at home because we're not fighting back against these Democratic tactics."
McConnell might have said, "Go home and tell your constituents to count how many Cabinet nominations have been made by President Trump and how many of those we've failed to confirm." Answer: zero.
But, McConnell knows how to work the Senate as well as anyone in the history of the Senate, so he waited for his moment and when it came, he seized it.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), while engaging in the all night debate against Jeff Sessions was quoting from a letter written by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr, against Sessions when he had been nominated to be a Federal judge.
Warren was warned by the chair that she was skating on thin ice. There are rules of the Senate, one of which is Rule XIX (19 for those who slept through high school Latin) which reads in part:
"No Senator shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impugn to any Senator or any group of Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator."
In English that appears to say that Senators should play nicely with one another.
Sen. Warren was found to be in violation of that rule meaning she was no longer allowed to speak on the nomination of Sen. Sessions to be AG.
Of course, the New York/Washington, DC pundits went crazy. It allowed Warren to play the victim. More than a million people watched her Facebook presentation. Male GOP Senators bullied a woman and made her sit down and shut up.
Woe to the GOP!
Well, what really happened (outside the Acela corridor) was that Sen. McConnell showed the folks back home of the GOP Senators that he could - and would - play hardball, if pressed.
Net result? Notwithstanding the horror of calling out Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Sessions was, indeed, confirmed by a vote of 52-47.