This last week, there was big news. The Democrats got to confirm a whole bunch of executive and judicial nominees that they weren’t expecting to. It turned out that they managed to confirm 23 nominees. This is surprising because of the slow way that the Senate works. Normally, votes on the nominees must be brought to the floor where they stay for a couple of days before they can get a vote. The way it was looking, there might have been a hand-full of nominees confirmed before the end of the session. As it was, the Senate was supposed to go home for the weekend on Friday and so Reid was going to have to wait until the following Monday to bring the nominations to the floor.
Lucky for the Democrats, they have great allies in the Republican Party: Mike Lee and Ted Cruz. These two clowns decided to make a bold stand against President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration. When the Senate tried to adjourn for the weekend, it needed unanimous consent. Lee and Cruz balked. They wanted a purely symbolic vote to say that the president was a doody pants for this action. And they wanted it Saturday! This allowed Harry Reid to bring all those nominees to the floor a full two days ahead of schedule. And that meant they would all have time to get votes.
Not surprisingly, the Senate Republicans were furious. But it is hard to feel bad for them. Lee and Cruz are what the Republicans have assiduously sowed over the last several decades. Any political party is going to have a spread of opinions. There is no way for the Republicans to have moved so far to the right without having people who are even more extreme. And remember: starting in January, there will be even more extreme Republicans in the Senate. This is what the Republican Party is. It’s ridiculous for them to think that they could get all the advantages of their pro-corporate extremism without it causing them to lose some tactical advantages because many of their members are simply crazy.
Just the same, the Democrats were thrilled. As Steve Benen pointed out, they got a whole bunch out of this and they gave absolutely nothing. To start with, the Lee-Cruz stunt ended in the symbolic vote going down in flames: 74 to 22. But the vote was scheduled for the next week anyway. It isn’t clear what the dynamic duo thought they were getting. It is also likely true that fewer Republicans voted for the bill because they were so angry at these idiots.
Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post provided a great overview of the outcome of this whole thing, Democrats Employ Strategy to Get the Most Bang for Obama Nominations. Reid has been very clear that they have focused on judicial appointments because those are the ones that have the longest effect. I’m so glad to hear him say that. Too often, Democrats do not act strategically. And, in fact, Obama was rather bad during his first term — he just wasn’t that interested in the judicial branch. But that’s changed. This Senate has confirmed more judges than any Senate since 1980.
There is some concern that the Senate has focused too much on the judiciary. There are scores of executive branch nominees that have gone unconfirmed. I think Reid’s approach was the best, however. It isn’t just that the judiciary has long-term effects. In the next two years under the Republicans, I’m sure that not a single judge will get a vote. But some executive branch nominees might, given that they will have less than two years to serve.
The truth of the matter is that there should be no reason that executive branch nominees should be simply passed through in the vast majority of cases. That’s especially true when the president is a Democrat and so the nominee isn’t being put in charge to destroy the institution he’s leading. But the situation is that the minority party will always block these nominations if for no other reason than to slow down any other work from getting done. When they get in power next year, I’m not sure how motivating this is going to be.
The next two years ought to be fairly uneventful in the Senate. I think we are going to see just how facile and rhetorical were all the claims that if Obama acted alone Congress wouldn’t work with him. There will be no working together. There never would have been any working together. And the Democrats should take any victory they can. The Republicans were never going to play nice and they won’t in the future.