Yesterday’s action in the Senate did not do away with the filibuster on nominations, and in some ways, the Senate will probably remain as dysfunctional and undemocratic as ever. But some Democrats are cautiously hopeful that the way in which they prevailed over Republicans in the standoff — winning the support of some GOP Senators for a slate of high profile Obama nominations vociferously opposed by the GOP leadership and hard right lawmakers — bodes well for the future.
In particular, the fact that John McCain and other Republicans seemed impatient with the overall oppositional posture driving GOP filibustering — and their use of obstructionist tactics explicitly to render government dysfunctional for political and ideological reasons — has caught Democrats’ attention. For instance, check out what Lindsey Graham had to say about GOP opposition to Richard Cordray, Obama’s pick to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
“Cordray was being filibustered because we don’t like the law” that created the consumer agency, said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “That’s not a reason to deny someone their appointment. We were wrong.”
The fact that Republicans were opposing Cordray out of ideological hostility to the agency itself, and not because of the nominee, was a key distinction Dems tried to draw as justification for threatening to change the rules by simple majority. Here is a GOP Senator on record confirming the Dem argument.
Democrats plan to seize on yesterday’s events to exacerbate what they hope is a developing schism between the GOP leadership/hard right alliance and a bloc of GOP Senators who (Dems are betting) are genuinely fed up with that alliance’s continued flouting of basic governing norms. They hope to renew the push for a return to budget negotiations, with an eye towards replacing the sequester. On the Senate floor today, Patty Murray — a key member of the Dem Senate leadership — will say:
“There is a group of Republicans — led by Senator McCain — who are very interested in ending the gridlock and working together to solve problems…I am really hopeful that the bipartisanship we’ve seen this week will carry over into the budget debate, and that rather than listening to the Tea Party, Republican leaders will listen to the Republican members who prefer common-sense bipartisanship over chaos and brinkmanship.”
This comes after the Senate passed immigration reform on a broad bipartisan basis, and after McCain sharply criticized Tea Party Senators for insisting that Dems agree in advance not to insist on a debt ceiling hike as a precondition for entering into budget talks, which McCain rightly characterized as completely at odds with how the Senate is supposed to function. The White House and Dems have long hoped to capitalize on the split between “defense hawks” (such as McCain and Graham) and “spending hawks” to peel off Republicans and get them to join Dems to replace the sequester. Those efforts have foundered, but Dems will seize on yesterday’s events to renew them.
Like Steve Benen and Jed Lewison, I see yesterday’s news as a step forward. It represents a key marker laid down by Democrats — there is a point at which GOP obstructionism crosses over into a hostility to basic governing that is unacceptable and justifies an extraordinary response. Crucially, some Republicans now appear to agree that there is a point at which Dem grievances are legitimate — they agree there is such a line. Whether Dems can capitalize on this in any meaningful sense remains to be seen, of course, but this is a start.
* MORE SIGNS OBAMACARE IMPLEMENTATION IS WORKING? Good news: State regulators in New York will announce today that health insurance costs are set to fall sharply in the state, thanks seemingly to the competition created by the new online exchanges put in place by the Affordable Care Act. While this was in some ways predictable, given that New York already has higher insurance prices, it is definitely good news and may bode well for continued implementation of the law.
In a case of excellent timing, the news comes just as House Republicans are set to hold a series of votes today designed to chip away at the law.
* HOUSE WRESTLES WITH ITS OWN IMMIGRATION BILL: The Hill reports that the bipartisan “gang of seven” negotiating over immigration in the House is struggling internally over the timing as to when it should introduce its own bill, which is expected to contain a path to citizenship. The question is whether to do so now, which could allow conservatives to shoot it to pieces during the August recess, or later, which would push the process in the fall.
The introduction of a bill could help gauge how much (or little) support there is among House Republicans for comprehensive reform, at a time when House GOP leaders continue to reiterate their preference for a “piecemeal” approach — one that may not even end up including citizenship.
* PAUL RYAN TO PLAY PIVOTAL ROLE ON IMMIGRATION: Another interesting tidbit from the above article in the Hill:
Whenever the group does release its plan, it will look for an endorsement from Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican budget chief who has kept in close contact with negotiators and has supported the effort in public and in private.
As I noted the other day, Ryan could play an important role, as someone with a great deal of credibility on immigration who is well positioned to exercise leadership (should he so choose) by persuading colleagues it’s time to act on immigration, even if it means he takes heat from the right.
* WILL REPUBLICANS REALLY FACE PRIMARIES OVER IMMIGRATION? Buzzfeed’s John Stanton does something novel: He actually examines the idea that House Republicans will all but certainly face primaries if they vote for immigration reform, and finds there isn’t much evidence for it. Indeed, he notes, in the cases where Republicans do face primaries, immigration probably won’t have anything to do with it.
For some time, I’ve been wondering whether the promise of a conservative backlash to immigration reform will prove as fearsome as advertised — and whether it’s really more a rationale for opposing it than anything else.
* MCCAIN BREAKS WITH GOP LEADERS (AGAIN): Paul Kane has an interesting look at John McCain’s role in going around the Senate GOP leadership in brokering a deal that won some GOP support for Obama’s nominations, averting a nuclear showdown yesterday. As noted above, the key question remains: Can Dems exacerbate this growing schism in any meaningful sense going forward?
* RUSSELL GEORGE RETURNS TO THE HILL: Later this week, the Treasury Department inspector general who wrote the audit of IRS targeting of conservatives will face questions under oath from Democrats who have found plenty of holes in his assessment. Here’s a good primer on what he’ll be asked.
* AND FOR THE GOP, IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT OBAMACARE: Glenn Kessler dismantles an attack on Obamacare I hadn’t heard before: Senator Lamar Alexander’s claim that students are overpaying on their loans in order to pay for the Affordable Care Act. What remains striking is the degree to which so many policy debates always come back to GOP opposition to Obamacare. We’ve seen this with immigration, the IRS story, student loans, and even the battle over the filibuster.