Revive the threat of filibuster reform, Harry Reid

February 14, 2013

Harry Reid announced this morning that he will proceed with a vote tomorrow on Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary, even as Republicans have indicated that they will proceed with the filibuster of the nominee. Meanwhile, Sam Stein reports that Democrats are just short of the votes to overcome the filibuster.

If this isn’t enough to get Reid to revive the threat of filibuster reform, nothing will be enough.

Hagel’s fate remains unclear. Philip Klein reports today that Senate Republicans are divided into several camps; while some of them are prepared to filibuster him, others are on the fence. Those in the latter group profess to be frustrated by the administration’s supposed lack of disclosure on the Benghazi story, but could vote for cloture, anyway. According to Klein, “There is concern within the Republican caucus about the precedent that would be set by filibustering a cabinet nominee.” That’s good to hear, but still, these Senators may oppose him.So Hagel could go down.

Others have already explained at length just how unprecedented this is; see Steve Kornacki and Steve Benen for good rundowns. As Kornacki puts it: “Simply put, we’re in uncharted territory. Look at it this way: Hagel is on course to be the first Pentagon nominee and only the third Cabinet nominee ever to face a 60-vote requirement for confirmation.”

Equally troubling is the atmosphere within which this is unfolding. Dave Weigel reports that right wing media outlets are quoting “Senate sources” who claim that documents on Hagel’s “foreign funding” supposedly lists a group called “Friends of Hamas.” But Weigel can’t find any evidence that “Friends of Hamas” exists. Even so, Senator Rand Paul discussed the supposed “Friends of Hamas” connection in an interview. This is someone who is talked about as a potential presidential candidate — yet he willingly trafficked in this apparently without bothering to check it out.

Look, we should have seen this all coming. Indeed, Jonathan Bernstein did see it coming, noting recently that GOP conduct throughout Obama’s first term clearly suggested the likelihood that Dems would need 60 votes to get Hagel confirmed. And here we are.

I don’t know how this is going to play out, but if Hagel does go down, it’s hard to imagine anything happening that makes as eloquent a case for Reid and Democrats revisiting filibuster reform than this affair will have done. Remember, the watered down filibuster reform deal Reid agreed to was at least partly premised on the idea that both sides were at least somewhat committed to ending some of the abuses that rendered the Senate dysfunctional during Obama’s first term. We now see that Republicans are making a mockery of that arrangement. This goes well beyond Hagel; as always, it goes to the question of whether we are going to have a functional Senate.

Memo to Harry Reid: Time to revive the threat of filibuster reform. Make it absolutely clear that this won’t be tolerated.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | February 14, 2013