The US Senate, at the request of Democratic Leader Harry Reid, just went nuclear and passed the so-called “nuclear option,” which makes executive branch and judicial nominees (lower than Supreme Court) no longer subject to filibuster.
In other words, those nominees will only need a 51 vote majority, rather than 60 votes to break a filibuster in the 100-person Senate.
The changes passed 52-48. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, and Carl Levin of Michigan voted against.
The reform came about because Republicans have been, among other things, filibustering the President’s nominees to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, putatively the second most important court in the land, simply because Republicans don’t think the court needs its full compliment of judges.
GOP Senators have no problems per se with the nominees themselves.
Republicans have taken to calling the President’s attempts to fill the empty slots on the DC Circuit “court packing,” which it decidedly is not when you simply nominate people to fill vacant slots that have existed for years.
Here’s a sobering fact from Senator Reid:
The need for change is obvious. In the history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. Half of them have occurred during the Obama Administration – during the last four and a half years. These nominees deserve at least an up-or-down vote. But Republican filibusters deny them a fair vote and deny the President his team.
Here’s a great chart from Brookings showing how GOP-inspired filibusters exploded under Obama, far more than the number of Democratic-inspired filibusters under Bush:
In addition, Senate Reid tweeted out this delicious Vine of Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell demanding up-or-down votes for presidential nominees not so long ago:
This is a big deal. Though, as some are already noting, it simply gets us back to where things used to be, where filibusters were only used in extreme circumstances, and not to block nearly every appointee in an attempt to bring down a presidency.
More from Harry Reid’s statement, explaining the degree to which the GOP has abused the filibuster:
There are currently 75 executive branch nominees ready to be confirmed by the Senate that have been waiting an average of 140 days for confirmation. One executive nominee to the agency that safeguards the water our children and grandchildren drink and the air they breathe has waited more than 800 days for confirmation.
We agreed in July that the Senate should be confirming nominees to ensure the proper functioning of government. But consistent and unprecedented obstruction by the Republican Caucus has turned “advise and consent” into “deny and obstruct.”
In addition to filibustering a nominee for Secretary of Defense for the first time in history, Senate Republicans also blocked a sitting member of Congress from an Administration position for the first time since 1843. As a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, Congressman Mel Watt’s understanding of the mistakes that led to the housing crisis made him uniquely qualified to serve as administrator of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Senate Republicans simply don’t like the consumer protections Congressman Watt was nominated to develop and implement. So they denied a fellow member of Congress and a graduate of Yale Law School even the courtesy of an up-or-down vote.
In the last three weeks alone, Republicans have blocked up-or-down votes on three highly qualified nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered by many to be the second highest court in the land. Republicans have blocked four of President Obama’s five nominees to the D.C. Circuit, whereas Democrats approved four of President Bush’s six nominees to this important court. Today, 25 percent of the D.C. Circuit Court is vacant. There isn’t a single legitimate objection to the qualifications of any of these nominees. Yet Republicans refused to give them an up-or-down vote – a simple yes-or-no vote. Republicans simply don’t want President Obama to make any appointments at all to this vital court.
Further, only 23 district court nominees have been filibustered in the entire history of this country. Twenty of them were nominated by President Obama. With one out of every 10 federal judgeships vacant, millions of Americans who rely on courts that are overworked and understaffed are being denied the justice they rightly deserve. More than half the nation’s population lives in a part of the country that’s been declared a “judicial emergency.”