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Tilting at Windmills

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October 26, 2009

UNPRECEDENTED OBSTRUCTIONISM.... In the Clinton era, Senate Republicans blocked a lot of the White House's judicial nominations. In the Bush era, Senate Democrats blocked votes on some would-be judges, too. But as Doug Kendall explains today, we've never seen anything quite like the new levels of Republican obstructionism.

It seems clear that Senate Republicans are prepared to take the partisan war over the courts into uncharted territory -- delaying up-or-down votes on the Senate floor for even the most qualified and uncontroversial of the president's judicial nominees.... Over the past several decades, senators in both parties have used an escalating set of procedural tactics to block confirmations, particularly near the end of an out-going president's term in office. To date, however, the tit-for-tat game has played out within a fairly narrow category of nominees who are deemed controversial. While there has never been an agreed-upon definition of what that means -- it's an eye-of-the-beholder type of thing -- there has consistently been a large category of nominees that are not considered controversial.

Despite all this, Senate Republicans still won't give Obama's judges a vote. The three Obama judges confirmed to the lower courts -- Gerald Lynch from New York and Jeffrey Viken from South Dakota in addition to Lange -- each spent weeks pending on the Senate floor and endured a confirmation process that lasted more than three months. Two additional nominees, Andre Davis of Maryland and David Hamilton of Indiana, cleared the Senate judiciary committee way back on June 4 -- 144 days ago. Yet their floor votes are still pending.

Davis and Hamilton have spent longer in this particular form of limbo than any Bush nominee confirmed from 2007-08.

Kendall describes this as "unprecedented and dangerous." It not only leaves vacancies on the bench, clogging the federal courts, but it also discourages qualified, uncontroversial jurists from even accepting nominations in the first place, knowing that the Republican minority won't give them a fair shake. Prospective judges realize that they can have a skeleton-free closet and plenty of support to be confirmed, but can wait indefinitely for a vote, simply because the GOP feels like it.

And it's not just judicial nominees. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, pointing to the difficulties of responding to the global flu pandemic, recently noted that the Senate isn't allowed to vote on a surgeon general, because Republicans refuse to let Regina Benjamin's nomination come to the floor. "We are facing a major pandemic, we have a well-qualified candidate for surgeon general, she's been through the committee process. We just need a vote in the Senate," Sebeilus said late last week. "Please give us a surgeon general."

Benjamin was unanimously approved by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Oct. 7, but the Senate minority has decided to block all HHS nominees, flu pandemic or no flu pandemic.

People for the American Way reported last week that between 1949 and 2009 -- spanning 11 presidents -- there were 24 nominees on which cloture was forced. In the first nine months of Obama's first year in office, there have been five, meaning Senate Republicans on track to force more cloture votes on more Obama nominees than practically every modern president combined.

And that doesn't include the secret and not-so-secret holds.

The Senate isn't supposed to be this dysfunctional.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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Comments

It's also not supposed to be run by the Republicans right now.

Posted by: Boronx on October 26, 2009 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

The Democrats will still have a simple majority in the Senate after the 2010 election. At that time they should adopt an organizing resolution that gets rid of the filibuster once and for all. the flagrant abuse of this "tradition" has made it completely incompatible with functioning small-d democratic government.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on October 26, 2009 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

And of course you'll never hear this on the MSM because they could give a damn about how dysfunctional our Govn't has become. They are only interested in balloon boy and how Obama has broken his post partisan pledge.

Posted by: mike from Arlington on October 26, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

The mainstream media should be shot for not reporting on this everyday.

Posted by: Patrick on October 26, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

The Senate is a ridiculous anachronism, and we'd be better off without it. That said, the operating procedures are not defined Constitutionally, but by majority vote. The Democratic majority could do a lot to make it function better, if they wanted to. Obviously, that hasn't been a priority.

Posted by: biff3000 on October 26, 2009 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

atmosphere extinction records suggested taken contribute deep

Posted by: westbrookh on October 26, 2009 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

I suggest that we declare November "Cough on a Republican Senator" month.

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on October 26, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

no one could have ever predicted that the Repugnants in the Clown Car US Senate would ever do these horrible things...

Posted by: neill on October 26, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

WHY in God's name is this not ALL OVER THE NEWS.

Posted by: jon on October 26, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

It's sabotage, plain and simple.

The republicans are no longer driving the bus so they are tearing holes in the seats and kicking out the windows.

Posted by: Hank Thompson on October 26, 2009 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

This is where Harry Reid needs to grow a spine and do something.

What can he do?

How about announcing that whenever there a judicial or executive nominee who has been passed by the Senate committee wasn't been given an up or down vote within 45 days, then any and all bills or amendments the Republicans want to bring to the floor will be ruled out of order.


Posted by: SteveT on October 26, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

There is NO MSM. They play what sells, and we all know what that is, sex (FOXy newscasters anyone?), fear, anger, violence, drama. If the few remaining legitimate journalists give up on the "MSM" and start branching out to the DOC channel, LINK TV, FSTV, blogs, and the like, then the "MSM" becomes more and more marginalized. Also, as fewer ppl watch it, and fewer of us consume the products advertised on those stations, they bcm more irrelevant. This is one way to fight back. It would also help if the FCC, no longer under Powell's control, would revert back to making the public airwaves serve the public, and not the corporations. But we can pressure them.

Posted by: In what respect, Charlie? on October 26, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Cap'n Phealy: you seemed to have made a typo: Fixed it.

I suggest that we declare November "Cough on a Republican Legislator" month, so that Republican members of the House may also need Dr. House.

Posted by: anony on October 26, 2009 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Like when we were kids, if you don't do what I want I'm going to take my ball and go home. Too bad we have such a completely dysfunctional press, or this shit would be all over the news. But, tis not so.

Posted by: rbe1 on October 26, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

They have effectively gone Galt- hiding behind a force field of contrarianism.

Posted by: johnnymags on October 26, 2009 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Somebody (lookin' at you, Mr. O') needs to call this infantile behavior, like rbe1 says. And on a daily basis -- countdown clock, whispering about the "nuclear option." Speaking of which, remember how this was the big threat by the Repubs? And how the Dems backed off? And how is that working out, now, you gutless weaasels?

Posted by: Greg Worley on October 26, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

I told the caller from the DNC that I'll donate again when Harry Reid either grows a spine or is replaced.

It really is that simple.

Posted by: ZH on October 26, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

They did this when Clinton was president, and that pile of Repiglican pig shit called Hatch was the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. It got so bad that the Repiglican Supreme Court Justice Rhenquist publically called out Hatch because the vacancies created throughout the Federal Court system was creating a back log of cases that has been stacking up for years because of the sick actions of Pig Shit Hatch. Hatch tried to defend him self on T.V. in one of the best sniveling displays by attacking, of course, Rhenquist I have even seen. And here we are again.

Posted by: stormskies on October 26, 2009 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

60 Votes, dammit, they have 60 votes.

Override the damn holds, override the filibusters. Time for the Party to fish or cut bait. For with us on the procedurals or get the hell out.

Posted by: Martin on October 26, 2009 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

1. Obama needs to use bully pulpit to communicate more to US citizens what the Repugs are doing, condemn it, and make them look bad (ie, sink even lower in polls.)

2. Too-cowardly Democrats need to work on changing rules to eviscerate everything from easy filibuster, to secret holds, to this sort of obstruction of appointments.

Posted by: Neil B ♫ on October 26, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

The Senate isn't supposed to be this dysfunctional.

If Harry Reid would enforce the rule that Democrats vote with Democrats on cloture, at risk of losing their committee assignments, and if they do it a second time at risk of expulsion from the caucus and no assignments, we'd be past this. These Democratic Senators are the real problem - that they cannot recognize an enemy as The Enemy and take the appropriate action, which is to vote to allow democracy and majority rule to happen.

Posted by: TCinLA on October 26, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Somebody (lookin' at you, Mr. O') needs to call this infantile behavior, like rbe1 says.

It's the chief executive's job to mend the broken legislative branch? What's the Democratic leadership in the Senate for?

Posted by: shortstop on October 26, 2009 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Its time to put up advertisements showing the republicans yelling "ALL NOMINEES DESERVES AN UP OR DOWN VOTE" when the Republicans were in charge. Then ask why aren't they allowing the votes now now.

Show the Republicans as the hypocrites they are.

Posted by: W.B.N. on October 26, 2009 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure how exactly 40 Republicans are able to prevent 60 Democrats from voting on judges. Perhaps the Democratic caucus needs to go back to kindergarten and re-learn arithmetic.

Posted by: Ron E. on October 26, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

It's simple, really. Republicans don't serve the American people, they serve powerful corporations. Government, imperfect as it is, is the ONLY effective check on corporate power. When Republicans paralyze government, they're paralyzing the one entity capable of thwarting their corporate masters, whose objective is to funnel all wealth produced in America to themselves, away from the vast majority of Americans. The GOP is doing what it's been paid to do.

Posted by: dalloway on October 26, 2009 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

The president should have a strong interest in this serious problem, and should definitely be saying more about it, and demanding that the Repubs be held to their own words on judicial nominees.
Not to mention other nominees. The Repubs would be screaming bloody murder, treason, whatever, if the Democrats ever obstructed to this extent.
I guess Harry Reid was right in one respect, having the 60 votes doesn't really make much of a difference, at least not when you're talking about Democrats.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on October 26, 2009 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

we've never seen anything quite like the new levels of Republican obstructionism.

We have also never seen anything like an administration this far to the left. If ever there was a time that simple "obstructionism" was a good policy, this is that time. I'd recommend to Republicans that they obstruct everything until Charles Rangle resigns his chairmanship (not his seat), and Anita Dunn tell us more about why she consults Mao Zedong instead of Deng Hsiao-ping (not exactly sure of current preferred spelling.)

In the aggregate, the Republicans are neither smart, eloquent, nor talented, but brainless obstructionism right now works in the public interest, given the administration's priorities.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on October 26, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

This story isn't really correct. The problem is that the Senate is respecting Republican holds, rather than just moving forward with the nominations anyway. Biden should just get up in the chair and rule the obstructions out of order.

Posted by: Joe Buck on October 26, 2009 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK
We have also never seen anything like an administration this far to the left.

With the minor exceptions that Roosevelt's, Truman's, LBJ's, Carter's, and maybe even Clinton's administrations all were to the left of Obama's.

What a maroon. Wingnuts are funny.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on October 26, 2009 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, MatthewRMarler and I are the same person.

Posted by: Mike K on October 26, 2009 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

And what would those priorities be, Matthew? If you're speaking of healthcare reform, the public wants it by comfortable majority, in spite of diversionary smokescreens of nonsense put up by the Republicans (remember "death panels", and "pulling the plug on grandma"?). Can you tell me one thing that is an administration priority that is actually against the public interest, rather than just something the Republicans don't like?

Posted by: Mark on October 26, 2009 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

dying animals can be violent just before the end.

The GOP is a dying party. Their Senate leadership knows this. The only thing they have is to obstruct everything, partly because that's what their Southern base wants, and partly because they simply have nothing else.

The Dems will keep the GOP alive indefinitely, because our ruling class needs a GOP. always has. Just because the people who run the GOP now have no idea what to do, other than obstruct, doesn't mean the GOP isn't very valuable as a direct tool of the corporate interests that own and run our country. The GOP is very important to them.

You can't run even a fake democracy with only one party, even though we've been doing it (as Noam Chomsky has pointed out), for a very long time. You have to have the cover of at least two parties. And that cover will be maintained as long as the quasi-fiction of constitutional law is maintained in this country.

We've always been a plutocracy camouflaged as a representative democracy..from our founding. It gets tougher and tougher to maintain the fiction of democracy though, in our times. Hence the need for the GOP.

and so, we're just gonna have to fight the bastards indefinitely. They're a zombie party now. Nothing can kill it/them. But we can keep them weak, if we keep working on it. Unfortunately, that's the most we can hope for.

Posted by: LL on October 26, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, MatthewRMarler and I are the same person.
Posted by: Mike K on October 26, 2009 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

And we are both assholes

Posted by: Mike K on October 26, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

We have also never seen anything like an administration this far to the left

I love it when Marler's cherished but incompetently executed mask of thoughtful moderation falls completely off and he's running around gibbering like the paranoid loons he pretends to disapprove of.

By the way, MatthewRMarler and I are the same person.

Can't say I'm surprised. The similarities have been wildly apparent for years.

Posted by: shortstop on October 26, 2009 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

oh, and matthewmarler is clearly an idiot. We shouldn't give him the pleasure of noticing him.

I have to get in my one ad-hominem for the day, and this was it.

Matty, baby, there IS no Left left in this country. There hasn't been for over 30 years. Our corporate media--and our corporate ruling class--crushed the true Left long ago. Nowadays the "left" is what centrist dems were 30 years ago.

It's called the "overton window" you might want to read about it before you go around calling the current administration "left".

But, then, you wouldn't understand any of this, because you're clearly an idiot.

Posted by: LL on October 26, 2009 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

republicans are the go to people to screwing everything up for ego. LOL! It is the only thing they can do correctly.

Posted by: Silver Owl on October 26, 2009 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

To MatthewRMarler:

"Deng Hsiao-ping" mixes two different romanization systems. In the older, more traditional, and more counter-intuitive (IMO) Wade-Giles system, it would be "Teng Hsiao-ping", where the "T" is pronounced like a "D" (That's the Wade-Giles system for you).

In the more systematic, modern, and somewhat less elegant (IMO) Pinyin system, it would be "Deng Xiaoping" where the "X" is pronounced like an aspirated "s" where the tongue doesn't touch the teeth.

Sorry, put I have to put my Asian Studies degree to some use whenever I can.

Posted by: jasperjava on October 26, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

We have also never seen anything like an administration this far to the left.

This statement is so easily empirically falsifiable I can't believe it was typed and submitted. There must be a real emotional desperation here to have you left oneself so vulnerable like this.

What Matthew Marler is too stupid too know is that the issue of providing universal health care to Americans has been on the table since 1906, when the American Association of Labor Legislation drafted a plan to provide health insurance for laborers to compete with nationalized insurance plans in Europe that had been in place for twenty years in some cases.

The American Medical Association strongly supported the AALS proposal for national health care at the time, and Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose party supported it in concept because they believed America couldn't be strong if its citizens were weak.

Ironically, that iteration of reform was defeated primarily by unions, who were concerned that the government might use the power of administering health insurance to weaken union power.

In 1943 the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill revisited the issue and Franklin Roosevelt strongly pushed for universal health care. This time it was defeated by the opposition of big business who leveraged the fear of commies to resist it, and the same tactic was used when Truman reintroduced the issue and tried to get a bill passed, but by then Republicans had control of Congress and dismissed the issue as a socialist plot.

So what few people know is that for over a century moneyed interests in America have used the specter of cultural and ideological infiltration (European, Russian, South American, Communist, socialist) to defeat universal health coverage, using the same cynicism employed to leverage bigotry and xenophobia among the masses as was done in the anti-miscegenation and anti-civil rights arguments.

And what this proves is that not only have their been administrations as "far left" as Obamas, some like Roosevelt and Truman's have been farther left. And to look at how long the issue of universal health coverage has been on the table deprives it of the characterization that it is either a threat or some uniquely new challenge that Obama is facing the nation with.

but brainless obstructionism right now works in the public interest, given the administration's priorities.

Really? So every year going forward as Americans drop their health insurance because they can no longer afford it or lose it because their insurer drops them for preexisting conditions or they lose their job, it's going to be in their best interest if there is no reform that provides them relief either in cost, right to health care, a public option, or all three?

You're a dimwit.

You got one thing right, though: the obstructionism and its apologists are truly brainless.

Posted by: trex on October 26, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

It not only leaves vacancies on the bench that otherwise would be filled with Democratic appointments, clogging the federal courts, but it also discourages qualified, uncontroversial Democratic jurists from even accepting nominations in the first place, knowing that the Republican minority won't give them a fair shake.

Fixed.

Republicans pay [strike]little[/strike] no price for their obstructionism, and every day they delay is another day a Democrat isn't on the bench, possibly ruling against Republican issues. Given that the so-called "liberal media" will forget this shameful record next time there's a Republican president and the GOP yells "upperdown vote!", where's the downside?

Posted by: Gregory on October 26, 2009 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

The Democrats need to start playing hardball. Learn what the Republicans did, and do it.

Posted by: giantslor on October 26, 2009 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is not Republicans who are simply doing what Republicans do, it's a majority leader that is completely incompetent to lead. With a 60-seat majority there is absolutely no reason why we should have to put up with this kind of bullshit. Reid cannot lead. Replace him with a competent leader.

Posted by: Rian Mueller on October 26, 2009 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Progressives are in a bit of a quandry.

If they want voters to care about filibusters, then the voters must be educated enough to pay attention to something more substantive than "Balloon Boy." But if the voters become that attentive, then they may see that Progressivism is just compulsion disguised as compassion, and vote conservative to preserve their liberties.

If you actually get voters to think, they will observe that socialistic policies have not worked historically, and are not likely to work in the future.

Posted by: MKS on October 26, 2009 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Scrap the Senate - it seems to have no function anymore other than to obstruct action. Let's get rid of it.

Posted by: Sean Peters on October 26, 2009 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

If you actually get voters to think, they will observe that socialistic policies have not worked historically, and are not likely to work in the future.

Well, except in all the cases where it's been fantastically successful -- Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, et al - and provides a quality of living equal to or greater than that of the U.S. while managing to compete in a global economy and do a better job of preserving the environment than we do.

If voters were to actually learn about the successes of socialist policies rather than the smears and falsehoods spread by reactionaries, the country would experience greater prosperity for all involved while reactionaries would be left finding new deceptive memes to fool the public and justify their selfish interests.

Posted by: trex on October 26, 2009 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

I hate the Republicans.
They suck.
Each and every one of them.

Posted by: Greydog on October 26, 2009 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

"All your Senate are belong to us."

- Signed, the GOP

Posted by: Zorro on October 26, 2009 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

We want an up or down vote.
It's at the top of our list.
At the top of our list.

Posted by: Greydog on October 26, 2009 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

Have none of your heard of recess appoinments?

Posted by: steve s on October 26, 2009 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Shutting down the courts to keep criminals on the street? How very Republican.

Posted by: KevinHayden on October 26, 2009 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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