Yes, Mitch McConnell is destroying the Senate

McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

I recommend a solid New York Times editorial today about the unprecedented, outrageous obstruction by Republican senators against President Obama’s nominees, especially his executive branch nominees.

It’s critically important to give this story as much attention as it deserves — which is quite a lot. Just the names alone: Hagel, Brennan, McCarthy, Perez, Cordray . . . and that’s only the ones from this term whom the Times mentions. Remember, however, that every single nomination is being subjected to a 60-vote requirement. That’s a filibuster, and it means that every single nominee is being filibustered. The only question is how many Republicans will support the filibuster, not whether there is one. And as the Times points out, there are additional forms of obstruction, too, whether it’s Sen. Rand Paul’s day-long speech, or asking the nominees to answering never-ending extraneous questions.

I’ve been harsh to Obama and Senate Democrats for not fighting back hard enough, but the main problem here is the Republicans in general, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell specifically.

Remember, a lot of this is simply grandstanding. Oh, yes, some of it is intended to really change policy — the nullification involved in the Cordray filibuster, for example — but most of it is just showing the flag. Never mind that it harms the nation by making it harder for government departments and agencies to function well. Or, for some Senate Republicans, maybe a poorly functioning government is a bonus.

The worst part is that it will ultimately make it impossible for the Senate to use the nomination process for legitimate attempts to influence policy, either through raising issues (as Rand Paul did) or bargaining over a state interest (as Sen. Roy Blunt is doing on the McCarthy nomination). There’s just no way to know which of these obstructions are real and which are simply excuses for obstruction-for-the-sake-of-obstruction, and so the majority has to shut them all down by cloture whenever possible. In other words, endless filibusters and other obstruction aren’t just bad for the government, but they’re bad for the Senate.

The bottom line: Democrats would be fully justified in moving to majority-imposed rules reform on executive-branch nominations. The best solution would be simple majority cloture — preserving the right of individual senators to slow things down a bit, but making it easy for the majority to act when it wants. But one way or another, it has to end.

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