‘Nuclear Option’ Depends On Where You Sit, Stand

You can ignore the Republican crocodile tears about the end of bipartisanship in the Senate after Democrats invoked the so-called “nuclear option” Thursday to limit the use of filibusters.  There never was any. Bipartisanship ended long ago when GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell vowed to make sure Barack Obama’s presidency failed and proceeded to put that into practice by blocking as much of the administration’s agenda as he could.

Democrats ended the use of the filibuster in the case of all nominations except for the Supreme Court – but not legislation – citing McConnell’s well-documented record of obstructionism. 

The objective of Republicans blocking court nominations is to keep the present number of conservatives on the bench while preventing the addition of progressives who would more closely reflect the view of the President and those who elected him, including 70 per cent of Jewish voters, who broadly support his policies.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said he acted reluctantly – he’d opposed the nuclear option more than once in the past – but felt that Republican obstructionism had gotten out of hand. 

Under McConnell Republicans have invoked the filibuster – requiring 60-vote majority – to block Obama’s judicial appointments more often in the past four and a half years than in the entire prior history of the U.S. Senate.

The filibuster is no longer the endless talkathon employed by Southern Democrats to block civil rights legislation 50 years ago.  Today it is a technical maneuver that requires a supermajority of 60 votes to break the blockage and clear the way for an up-or-down vote. 

Furious Republicans whose obstructionism has exacerbated Washington’s gridlock of the past several years are vowing revenge.  And they will no doubt deliver on that threat with more such tactics in the months ahead and certainly when they eventually return to the majority in the Senate.

Senator Reid noted he had opposed the nuclear option earlier in the Obama administration and back when Republicans were in the majority and George W. Bush was president, but “Things have changed dramatically since 2005,” and Republicans have been “trying to deny the fact that Obama was elected and reelected.”

President Obama lauded today’s rules change, but he didn’t always feel that way, either. Back in 2005 then-Senator Obama spoke out strongly against ending the filibuster, and McConnell, who holds the record for filibusters, in 2005 thought ending the filibuster was a fine idea.

It all comes down to the old principle: where you sit often determines where you stand. 

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.