Good News on Filibuster Reform?

Greg SargentGreg Sargent wrote an article this afternoon that really has me scratching my head, Do Senate Dems Have the Votes for the ‘Nuclear Option’? The word on Capital Hill is that the Democrats may not have enough votes to enact the “nuclear option”—the move to abolish the filibuster on judicial nominations. Apparently, there are four Senators who are not keen on this filibuster reform: Carl Levin (MI), Patrick Leahy (VT), Jack Reed (RI), and Mark Pryor (AR). As a result of Frank Lautenberg’s death, this puts the number of Democratic votes for the “nuclear option” down to just 50—not enough to pass.

These four Senators are an odd collection. The first three are somewhat liberal from liberal states. I can understand someone being very much in favor of minority rights and really wanting to keep the filibuster. But when the Republicans last controlled the White House and the Senate, they effectively eliminated the filibuster. This was at a time when the Democrats were using the filibuster half as much as the Republicans are now. Plus, the rate was decreasing. Can these guys really think that they are preserving the filibuster and not just, you know, preserving the filibuster for as long as it advantages the Republicans? Really: I don’t get it.

The fourth Senator, Mark Pryor leans somewhat conservative, and given that he’s from Arkansas, I can hardly blame him. But even he’s an odd one to be against this. During the Bush years, he was part of the Gang of 14, who effectively ended the Democrats’ ability to filibuster. I know, I know: the Gang of 14 compromise was supposedly a way to maintain the filibuster. But in practice it just meant that the filibuster remained as long as the minority didn’t use it. And when the Republicans were once again in the minority—Quelle surprise!—the Gang of 14 broke up. So it would seem that Pryor is very concerned about protecting the minority, but only when his own party is in the majority. Of course, Pryor is known to be kind of an idiot:

What I find perplexing in Sargent’s article is his concern that the Democrats don’t have the votes for the “nuclear option.” First, it is not at all clear that none of these four will vote for it. He wrote that Leahy and Pryor are “question marks” and Reed is “a Maybe.” (I’m not sure why he capitalized it.) And then there is the Joe Biden factor. Sargent showed that Biden is virtually guaranteed to be on board, so there are the 51 votes that the Senate needs.

I would add one more thing: the Democrats could wait until October when Cory Booker (or regardless, some Democrat) wins the special election and puts a Democrat back in the Lautenberg seat. So I think that Sargent is just being overly gloomy. I usually share that gloom, but it looks pretty sunny this time. And I’m especially happy that my two Senators Boxer and Feinstein are on board. Let’s reform that filibuster!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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