“Naked Power Grab” — REALLY?

Dana Milbank:

“Congress is broken,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday before holding a party-line vote that disposed of rules that have guided and protected the chamber since 1789.

If Congress wasn’t broken before, it certainly is now. What Reid (Nev.) and his fellow Democrats effectively did was take the chamber of Congress that still functioned at a modest level and turn it into a clone of the other chamber, which functions not at all. They turned the Senate into the House.

Democrats were fully justified in stripping Republicans of their right to filibuster President Obama’s nominees — yet they will come to deeply regret what they have done.

Certainly, Republicans have abused the dilatory tactics that Senate minorities have, for centuries, used with greater responsibility; they seem intent on bringing government to a halt. And the Senate in 2013 is hardly a healthy institution. Yet it has achieved far more than the House — passing bipartisan immigration legislation and a farm bill and working out deals to avoid default and to end the federal government shutdown — largely because, until Thursday, Senate rules required the majority party to win votes from the minority.

Here’s what then-Sen. Joe Biden said in 2005 when a Republican Senate majority threatened to use a similar “nuclear option” to allow a simple majority to carry the day:

“The nuclear option abandons America’s sense of fair play . . . tilting the playing field on the side of those who control and own the field. I say to my friends on the Republican side: You may own the field right now, but you won’t own it forever. I pray God when the Democrats take back control, we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.”

In other words, Democrats’ voting to end the filibuster for executive branch and federal court nominations is a “naked power grab.”

REALLY? And refusing to allow Pres. Obama to fill three empty seats on the second most important federal appeals court in the country — as well as blocking 93 other open federal judgeships — not because Republicans have any objection to who the President is nominating, but solely because they don’t want THIS President to appoint anyone at all is not a naked power grab?

Almost 5,000 commenters (at this writing) tear Dana Milbank to shreds.

Here’s what really happened:

On Thursday, the Democrats changed the Senate forever because the GOP wouldn’t stop abusing the filibuster, even against the threat of “nuclear” retaliation.

Republicans have been engaging in a passive naked power grab for five years. I was thinking it, and Greg Sargent wrote it:

Mitch McConnell gave the game away with this particular quote about the nuclear option:

This is nothing more than a power grab in order to try to advance the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda.”

Basically, he is right! In order to advance any prayer of a second-term agenda (most importantly, new rules on coal-fired power plants), Democrats need to use executive authority, and filling empty seats on the D.C. Circuit Court is key to protecting those actions in court.

The flip side of McConnell’s quote — the beauty of it — is that he is tacitly admitting that his party’s filibustering of every nominee to the D.C. Circuit was not just about the size of the court, but was also a power grab of its own, one designed to stymie Obama’s regulatory agenda. Republicans don’t have enough members to defeat nominees on a straight vote, so they’ve been using the process to stop them from getting one.

Scott Lemieux:

Shorter Dana Milbank: Since American political history started in 2013, it is clear that the United States Senate is a much more effective and functional legislative body than the House of Representatives.

Ruth Marcus admits that Harry Reid “asked a perfectly fair question” when he called her to inquire what she would have done in his place:

I feel the majority leader’s frustration. Which is why I thought Democrats were justified in deploying the nuclear option, to change Senate rules by a simple majority rather than the usual two-thirds, to eliminate the ability to filibuster nominees to positions in the executive branch.

Which, of course, is why she thought they WERE NOT justified in deploying the nuclear option, not at ALL:

Yet sometimes when a bully challenges you, the smartest move is to walk away.  Reid says he couldn’t.  “To leave that court” — the D.C. Circuit — “with a majority of crazies would have been terribly bad for the country,” he said.

But a move to curtail filibusters of executive branch nominees might have jarred Republicans enough to loosen up on some of the judicial filibusters.  Even if not, shifting the current balance on the D.C. Circuit — it tilts conservative when senior judges, who continue to hear cases, are added to the mix — is not worth the complete loss of the tool in the future.

I’m not a fan of filibustering judges, but there are situation in which it is appropriate, and the need to amass 60 votes has had a chastening effect on presidential selection.

Oh, I know just what she means! It’s like war, don’t you know. I’m not a fan of war, but there are situations in which it’s appropriate. And so sad, so bad, I’ve never seen a situation where it is NOT appropriate. Ruth Marcus, the John McCain of filibustering.

Charles Pierce and Barbara O’Brien, both wickedly hilarious, as usual:

Charles Pierce wrote, “They may need the Jaws of Life to pry Ruth Marcus off the fainting couch.” Yep; Marcus is furious with the Democrats because (as she admits) Republicans forced their hand to end the filibuster, and they actually did it. She is even now swooning on the sofa and calling for smelling salts.

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