This morning, Jonathan Chait explained, There’s Only One Thing at Stake in the Senate Race. It’s a good article. He started by explaining why it is that the Republicans are not going to start making deals. Right now, the problem is that the House Republicans will not make any deals with Obama. Any deal that they would make would be acceptable to the Senate — be it in Republican or Democratic control.
I think he was a too dismissive of the possibility of Obama caving on a Grand Bargain. If the Republicans offered Obama cuts to Social Security in exchange for just about anything, he would take it. The only reason this doesn’t terrify me is that the Republicans have a long history of being unwilling to offer any compromises at all. So just as it has been the last four years, what will save us for the next two years will be that the Republicans are unwilling to do anything. And that takes us back to Chait’s original point: it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the Senate.
Where Senate control matters is on the appointment of federal judges. It is very likely that a Republican controlled Senate will not approve a single judge in the following two years. And why is that? Because the Republicans have long ago given up any ideas about respecting norms. They will see having no judges appointed as being better than having a liberal (or more likely a moderate) judge appointed. And in as much as the media will even notice this, Mitch McConnell’s response is almost certain to be to point to the elimination of the filibuster on appointments and claim, “They started it!”
What bugs me about this is that during Obama’s first term, he was incredibly lackadaisical about about judicial and executive appointments. I know that Obama cares about his legacy, and there is no greater one than the judges that are put on the bench — especially in an era in which Republicans nominate almost nothing but ideologues. Obama seems to have always thought that he had plenty of time. And clearly he didn’t. Since the removal of the filibuster for these appointments, there has been a much bigger push by the administration. But it’s still been slow going, because the Republicans have done literally everything they can to slow progress.
Some people have claimed that Obama couldn’t have focused on judges early in his term because there was so much other stuff that he was doing. But the president has almost unlimited resources for hiring people. If it was an important issue for him, it would have gotten done. Part of the problem, I think, is that during the first four years, Obama still harbored the delusion that he was going to be a bipartisan president (whatever that might mean). And appointing lots of judges would have been seen as rubbing the Republicans’ noses in Obama’s power. Of course, the truth of the matter is that Obama can’t walk down the street without the Republicans feeling offended. Remember when Obama gave a speech about the importance of education to school children and the Republican freak out that ensued?
So the real question that we have to ask is, “How does control of the Senate allow the Republicans to harm Obama?” That’s it. They aren’t interested in anything else. And Chait is right, the one place where they will gain power is in rejecting Obama’s nominations. And that’s why I think they will not allow any for the next two years, if they get control of the Senate. And that is a very big deal.