In case you were wondering about that filibuster deal that John McCain made with Harry Reid, well, it looks like it is crumbling. And this is the first vote after the critical seven that Reid said must be approved. Earlier this afternoon, the Senate was anxiously waiting for Senator Heidi Heitkamp to fly back to Washington. The reason? The Democrats are trying to pass a cloture vote on the nomination of Todd Jones to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Thus far they only have 59 votes and they need 60.
There are a couple of things that are worth nothing here. First, this wouldn’t even be an issue if the Senate had passed one of the minor filibuster reforms that people like me were calling for earlier this year. The proposal was to put the filibuster onus on the people filibustering, not the majority. So instead of the majority having to get 60 votes, the minority would have to get 41 votes. The way it is today with 59-40, Todd Jones’ nomination would already have had a successful cloture vote. The truth is that this is just pathetic. Not a single one of those 40 Republicans who have voted against cloture even need to be in Washington. It is all about the majority having to prove that it has the votes to stop a filibuster; the minority has no obligation to sustain its own filibuster.
The other thing about this is that this is a fucking filibuster! I am so tired of this bullshit. The idea of the so called nuclear option was that it would disallow filibusters on executive branch nominations. The deal was that the Republicans would not filibuster 7 critical nominations. But that’s not what happened. Every one of those nominations was filibustered. It is just that enough Republicans voted for cloture that the filibusters were unsuccessful. But they were still filibustered. There was still a whole lot of time wasted. The Democrats still had to make sure that every one of them was present to vote for cloture because most of the time the Republicans didn’t even give them a single vote to spare.
So here is how it all breaks down. The Republicans apparently are only willing to do the bare minimum necessary to avoid the Nuclear Option. Sure, this one cloture vote is likely to go through, but if we are already having difficulty with the eighth vote, it is hopeless after Congress returns from the break. The Republicans were never willing to stop filibustering. The Republicans have only been willing to give the minimum number of votes. And the onus of stopping a filibuster is still on the majority. This is not a lot of progress.
I know that things are (temporarily anyway) slightly better than they were. But is this really the way the Senate ought to work? The Senate operated a long time without a filibuster; the first one was in 1837. Then, for well over 100 years, the filibuster was rarely used. And as a rarely used tool, it makes quite a nice addition to the Senate where everyone is supposedly on such friendly terms. Now it is not a tool that the minority can use; it is a tool that gives the minority veto power over all legislation and appointments. I want to be as clear as possible about this: the filibuster should go. I don’t care that the Republicans will later be in the majority. The Senate ought to be able to run like a normal legislative body. And look: after it goes away, if the Republicans again become a normal (non-revolutionary) party, the filibuster can be brought back. But it needs to go. The sooner the better.
Update (1 August 2013 3:34 pm)
Todd Jones got confirmed. But Steve Benen adds some information about the cloture vote. It almost didn’t happen at all. It was only after John McCain and Susan Collins convinced Lisa Murkowski that Heidi Heitkamp’s vote mattered at all. The interesting thing is that Murkowski is (by Republican standards) a moderate. What does it matter if the ATF has someone to head it? I mean really? This is the kind of thing the Republicans filibuster over? Really?! This has nothing to do with policy. This is just blocking everything because you can. As I said: it needs to go.