November 21, 2013

The hypocrisy on both sides is a bit much to stomach. In 2005, Senate Republicans threatened to go “nuclear” to stop filibustering of federal judges by the Democrats. The Democrats hollered, invoked over 200 years of precedent and then made a deal to leave the filibuster in place. The reverse happened this time around, the difference being that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) actually went forward. Reid lost three Democrats but the rule change passed. Now Republicans will no longer be able to filibuster executive branch appointments or judges (other than Supreme Court justices).

Sen. Mitch McConnell (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Should we care? Well, to the extent that Democrats and their media buddies care about “bipartisanship” and “comity,” allowing the majority to disregard the minority on these appointments isn’t going to help matters. Certainly, when the shoe is on the other foot Republicans will do the same. We will therefore have many more unqualified and extreme nominees. That’s in my view a bad thing. In the short run, Republicans may retaliate by bringing the Senate to a standstill. (Then again, it hasn’t been a model of energetic government.)

Other compromises might have been worked out, such as a limit on the number of filibusters or a narrower group of nominees shielded from the filibuster. But the president is now desperate to hold onto his base, so socking it to the GOP is more important than ever, as is even a temporary distraction from the Obamacare fiasco.

My suggestion to Republicans is to move on and, unfortunately, return the “favor” when they are in power. Republicans are not blameless in this. First, you have to win elections both at the presidential level and in the Senate. The people screaming the loudest on the right are also those who have backed some of the worst, most self-destructive candidates out there. So, start picking candidates wisely and winning elections. And second, the filibuster threat was arguably meant to be used sparingly. (The “extraordinary circumstances” standard was the agreed upon test in 2005.) In the case of a string of nominees to the critical D.C. Circuit. Republicans filibustered because they asserted there was no need for the judges and Obama was in essence packing that court. Had they used more discretion, making an individualized judgment on each nominee, it might not have come to this.

It’s bad, in my book, when the Senate becomes more like the House. But as in the Supreme Court loss on Obamacare, Republicans need to learn there is no substitute for winning.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.