How do you write an analysis about a fight in the Senate over judicial confirmation rules without once mentioning Harry Reid? Politico’s Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine even manage to make use of the word “nuclear” to describe Mitch McConnell’s long-awaited effort to shorten debate on circuit-level judicial confirmations from thirty hours to two. However, the man who pioneered the simple-majority rule change never gets any credit in this lengthy analysis, let alone his full due as the author of nuclear warfare in the upper chamber.
The closest we get to the history of these tactics is this:
Democrats are outraged that Republicans are preparing to change the Senate rules with a party-line vote, as the GOP did to get Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch confirmed and as Democrats did for nominees in 2013.
McConnell “kind of prides himself on being a Senate institutionalist. But what he’s trying to do to the Senate is dramatic and historic,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
Er, no it isn’t. What Reid did in late 2013, with the assistance of Durbin (then #3 in Senate Democrat leadership) and Chuck Schumer (then #2) was “historic.” Reid buried the filibuster on all presidential appointments short of the Supreme Court on a rule change passed by simple majority vote, the first time that had ever been done after the start of a session of Congress. Reid and his fellow Democrats ignored the clear historical precedents to claim that they could accomplish this without consulting Republicans.
What has followed since then hasn’t been “dramatic and historic,” but predictable and mundane. Reid, Durbin, and Schumer set the precedent, and McConnell the Institutionalist has followed it for his own purposes. You’d never know this by reading the Politico article, but the record on this is abundantly clear, as were the consequences at the time that the Democratic trio dropped the nuclear bomb on the Senate. McConnell warned them that they would live to regret it — and now they have.
And since Politico doesn’t provide any of this backstory, readers will miss the hilarious irony of Schumer’s counter-offer to McConnell:
In an interview Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) outlined a potential compromise to avoid a “nuclear” clash: Reinstate Democrats’ ability to weigh in on home state Circuit Court nominees via the “blue slip” practice in exchange for bipartisan support for shortening debate on Trump nominees.
“My answer to them is restore the blue slips and then maybe we can come to a compromise,” Schumer said, adding that he had spoken to several GOP senators about it. “They’re eroding democracy, they’re eroding bipartisanship and sooner or later, they’ll regret it.”
Where to begin unpacking this hilarity? Having eliminated the judicial filibuster in 2013, Schumer now wants McConnell to give Democrats a back-door filibuster via the blue slip, a power that it has rarely had in its century-long history. Without the context of Democrats’ precedent-setting power grab in 2013, readers will miss the irony in hearing Schumer accuse anyone of “eroding bipartisanship” and the potential to “regret it” later. Come on, man.
One has to wonder whether McConnell will really pull the trigger, though. He’s been threatening this move for a year and a half, and still the 30-hour rule remains in place. Trump has 128 seats to fill on district courts, however, and that rule would likely prevent most from being confirmed with Trump appointees in this term. Besides, the stakes in this supposed “nuclear” exchange are relatively small. There is no need for thirty hours of debate on circuit-court judge appointments after clearing the Judiciary Committee; every senator will know exactly how they will vote anyway. Two hours of pontificating is plenty, regardless of who’s making the appointments and why.
One thing’s for sure: McConnell should either pull the trigger or stop talking about it.