One very interesting development in the Senate today: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told Chuck Todd (via Think Progress) not only that he would be willing to vote for cloture on Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary, despite intending to vote against confirming him, but also that he believes that’s the correct principle for executive branch nominations in general:
I think for somebody who’s going to be there the length of time the president serves as opposed to a Supreme Court judge, that a majority in the Senate should be able to confirm. I wouldn’t intend to be a part of that majority but certainly my strong inclination would be that this is a vote that should be done by a majority rather than a 60 vote standard and this person’s going to leave the day the president leaves that makes a difference.
Now, this won’t cover every position; members of the board of the Federal Reserve have long terms; members of the National Labor Relations Board have five-year terms; and there are plenty of other such positions. However, it would cover the bulk of executive branch presidential nominations.
Indeed, while I would support simple majority confirmation (actually, simple majority cloture) for all executive branch posts, Blunt’s position is at least a reasonable one.
It is not, however, one that most Republicans have generally used over the last four years. Cloture votes have been held on positions including, among others, deputy secretary at interior, under secretary at Treasury, legal adviser at state, solicitor at labor, and deputy attorney general. There seem to be some “yes/no” Republicans who will vote for cloture despite opposing the nomination, but not many.
(It’s worth noting that, whatever his current position, Blunt was a “no/yes” on Deputy Attorney General James Michael Cole in 2011, voting with Republicans in a straight party line vote for cloture that failed, 50-40, but then joining all the Democrats and four other Republicans in voting for confirmation — a vote that passed, 55-42).
The truth is, I’d like to see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put this to the test by scheduling a cloture vote. It would be very nice to set a new precedent that Republicans can agree to cloture, at least on executive branch nominations, even when they oppose confirmation. Or, it would be nice to know if they can’t, so that Senate reformers can use that information to make their case. I though Reid should have done the same thing, by the way, on the Supreme Court nominations during Barack Obama’s first term.
So, how about a cloture vote on Chuck Hagel? What about it, Harry Reid?