May 30, 2013

Norm Ornstein points out that the responsibility for the upcoming confrontation over Senate rules rests firmly with Republicans, who have used unprecedented levels of obstruction against Democratic nominees, and in particular with those Republicans “who know better–like Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, and Saxby Chambliss.”

That’s exactly correct. Note that Ornstein names five Republicans. If those five agreed to an updated version of the Gang of 14 agreement — supporting cloture on all executive branch nominees, all district judge nominees and all appellate level judges except for those with “extraordinary circumstances” — then the Senate rules showdown would be over. Yes, Democrats would grumble about the occasional defeated circuit court pick, and many Democrats outside of the Senate and a few within oppose filibusters regardless of circumstance, but as Greg Sargent wrote, “the basic situation here is that Democratic leaders don’t want to hit the nuke button” (his emphasis).

And rightly so. The chief job of party leaders in the Senate is to look out for the interests and protect the rights of individual senators. That does include the partisan interests of those senators, but most senators are more than just partisan markers. And, more to the point, the nation is better off when individual senators are more than just partisan stooges, doing little more than registering their votes on behalf of the party; indeed, the nation is better off when members of the House act as individual legislators and not just as partisan puppets.

Because that’s what’s really at stake here. The status quo of massive obstruction by the minority can’t and won’t hold; sooner or later, either the minority will back down or the majority will impose new rules. After that, the Senate will be different — and there’s no guarantee it will emerge a stronger, more capable chamber.

Those Republicans “who know better” could really make a difference. Will they?