February 14, 2013

If there’s one thing that the Chuck Hagel nomination has made clear, it’s that a whole lot of reporters — and even some senators — still don’t know how to talk about the 60-vote Senate. So here’s one more try.

1. Collectively, as a party, Republicans have insisted on a 60-vote standard for absolutely everything the Senate does. There is simply never a question, therefore, of whether to filibuster. Every bill, every nomination, every everything that can be filibustered is being filibustered, from January 2009 on.

2. More Republicans, on most items, see little or no difference between voting against something and voting against cloture on it. It’s not an absolute rule; some Republicans, on some items, have voted yes on cloture, no on a nomination. But overall the distance is slight.

3. However, no Republicans are acting as if it takes extraordinary circumstances to vote against cloture.

4. The distance between voting no and voting against cloture appears to be slightly wider on Cabinet-level executive branch nominations, and perhaps on some judicial nominations. But again — that’s only true for some Republicans, not all of them, and it’s not clear how many or by how much.

To be clear: Normal Senate procedure requires a simple majority, not 60 votes, for confirmation. Republicans say, explicitly, that it takes 60. That’s a filibuster on everything. It may not always be a filibuster that wins, or that lasts, or that winds up having a cloture vote, or for that matter gets any votes at all…but as long as 60 is the standard, it’s a kind of filibuster.