The Times West Virginian

Headline News

November 22, 2013

Dems vote to curb filibusters on appointees

WASHINGTON — Sweeping aside a century of precedent, Democrats took a chunk out of the Senate’s hallowed filibuster tradition on Thursday and cleared the way for speedy confirmation of controversial appointments made by President Barack Obama and chief executives in the future.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who orchestrated the change, called the 52-48 vote a blow against gridlock. Republicans warned Democrats will eventually regret their actions once political fortunes are reversed and they can no longer block appointments made by a GOP president.

At the White House, Obama welcomed the shift. “The gears of government have got to work,” he said, and he declared that Republicans had increasingly used existing rules “as a reckless and relentless tool to grind all business to a halt.”

But Republicans warned of a power grab by Democrats, some predicting that worse was yet to come. “This drastic move sets a dangerous precedent that could later be expanded to speed passage of expansive and controversial legislation,” said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.

The day’s change involved presidential appointees, not legislation — and not Supreme Court nominees.

The immediate impact was to ensure post-Thanksgiving confirmation for Patricia Millett, one of Obama’s three stalled nominees for the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, and for others whom Republicans have blocked. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., tapped to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, is among them.

The longer-term result of the unilateral move by Democrats was harder to gauge in a Senate that has grown deeply constrained by the major political differences emblematic of an era of divided government.

At issue was a rule that has required a 60-vote majority to end debate in the 100-member Senate and assure a yes-or-no vote on presidential nominees to federal courts or to Cabinet departments or other agencies.

Under a parliamentary maneuver scripted in advance, Democrats changed the proceedings so that only a simple majority was required to clear the way for a final vote. In Senate-speak, this was accomplished by establishing a new precedent under the rules, rather than a formal rules change.

Supreme Court nominations still will be subject to a traditional filibuster, the term used to describe the 60-vote requirement to limit debate.

The day’s events capped more than a decade of struggle over judicial nominations, in which first President George W. Bush found his appointees stalled by Senate Democrats, and more recently Obama has complained that Republicans have been delaying or preventing confirmation for his picks.

The vote adds to the list of issues likely to figure in next year’s congressional elections. In a fundraising appeal emailed a few hours after the vote, the Senate Republicans’ campaign organization asked for donations. It warned that “Democrats are going to pack Obama’s liberal judges on the federal courts,” and sought donations to “throw these hacks out of office.”

On Thursday, in a certain sign that a showdown was imminent, senators filed into the Senate chamber at midmorning in unusual numbers. They listened from their desks as Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky swapped accusations that preceded a series of votes on arcane parliamentary points. Yet there was no suspense about the final outcome.

McConnell said Republicans had grown tired of threats of action. “We’re not interested in having a gun put to our head any longer,” he said, noting that Democrats have periodically talked of changing the rules in recent months.

Still, the events marked a reversal for Reid, who had threatened earlier in the year to change the application of filibuster rules for nominees to Cabinet departments and other agencies, but not for appointments to the courts.

Back then, he and McConnell clashed in highly personal, accusatory terms. This time, they recited their grievances in an exchange that was courteous if sharply worded.

“In the history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominees. Half of them have occurred during the Obama administration — during the last four and a half years,” Reid said.

The Nevada Democrat accused the GOP of “unbreakable, unprecedented obstruction.” He said Republicans had blocked qualified appointees “to force wholesale changes to laws ... to restructure entire executive branch departments” and because they don’t want Obama “to appoint any judges to certain courts.”

McConnell retorted that Democrats had “pioneered the practice of filibustering circuit court nominees,” beginning with Miguel Estrada, a 2001 Bush appointee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked by Democrats under pressure from outside liberal groups. A Hispanic immigrant viewed at the time as a potential future Supreme Court pick, he withdrew his nomination after more than two years in limbo.

McConnell said Republicans had allowed confirmation of 99 percent of Obama’s appointments to the courts. And he likened Reid’s dropping of his pledge to leave rules for judicial appointees unaffected to the promise the president made that Americans who liked their health coverage could keep it under “Obamacare.”

McConnell, the GOP leader said, “may as well just have said, ‘If you like the rules of the Senate, you can keep them.”’

The change is the most far-reaching since 1975, when a two-thirds requirement for cutting off filibusters against legislation and all nominations was lowered to 60 votes.

The original impetus for the change came from relatively junior Democrats, including Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico, who are among the 31 members of their party who have never served in the Senate minority.

More senior Democrats came around gradually, some noting the Senate’s traditions while others fretted about the possibility that they were giving up the right to block nominees of the future whom they might oppose strenuously.

Asked about that concern after the vote, Reid said, “This is the way it has to be. The Senate has changed.”

Modern-day rules covering filibusters have evolved slowly in the Senate, where change rarely comes easily.  Since 1917, the minority has enjoyed the right to unlimited debate on legislation and nominations until the majority can amass a super-majority. In recent years, that has meant 60 votes.

In the end, Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas parted company with Reid on the switch.

Pryor, who faces a difficult re-election fight next year, said in a statement the Senate was “designed to protect — not stamp out — the voices of the minority.”

Pryor also noted he had been among a bipartisan group of senators, the so-called Gang of 14, that produced a last-minute compromise nearly a decade ago when Republicans threatened a change in procedures to assure confirmation of several of Bush’s stalled judicial nominees.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., another veteran of the Gang of 14, said he had met with Reid on Wednesday urging him to reconsider. “I reached out until my arms ached,” he said.

———

Associated Press writers Donna Cassata and Henry C. Jackson contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Obama Exporting Pollu_time.jpg ‘Not in my backyard’: U.S. sending dirty coal abroad

    As  the Obama administration weans the U.S. off dirty fuels blamed for global warming, energy companies have been sending more of America’s unwanted energy leftovers to other parts of the world where they could create even more pollution.
    This fossil fuel trade threatens to undermine President Barack Obama’s strategy for reducing the gases blamed for climate change and reveals a little-discussed side effect of countries acting alone on a global problem. The contribution of this exported pollution to global warming is not something the administration wants to measure, or even talk about.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • U.S.: Russia fired rockets into Ukraine

    Stepping up pressure on Moscow, the U.S. on Sunday released satellite images it says show that rockets have been fired from Russia into neighboring eastern Ukraine and that heavy artillery for separatists has crossed the border.
    The images, which came from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and could not be independently verified by The Associated Press, show blast marks where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images show heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26 — after the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

    July 28, 2014

  • Plan to simplify health renewals may backfire

    If you have health insurance on your job, you probably don’t give much thought to each year’s renewal. But make the same assumption in one of the new health law plans, and it could lead to costly surprises.
    Insurance exchange customers who opt for convenience by automatically renewing their coverage for 2015 are likely to receive dated and inaccurate financial aid amounts from the government, say industry officials, advocates and other experts.
    If those amounts are too low, consumers could get sticker shock over their new premiums. Too high, and they’ll owe the tax man later.

    July 28, 2014

  • W.Va. Judge: WVU, IMG College deal is OK

    A judge has denied a motion by West Virginia Radio Corp. to toss the media rights contract between West Virginia University and IMG College.
    Media outlets report Monongalia County business court circuit judge Thomas Evans set aside a motion for summary judgment against WVU and others.
    West Virginia Radio was seeking to void any contract entered by WVU and IMG. West Virginia Radio unsuccessfully bid on the contract, then filed a motion for summary judgment in February, claiming school officials violated state procurement laws.
    Evans ruled the code cited by the plaintiffs didn’t apply to the $86.5 million, 12-year agreement reached last year.

    July 28, 2014

  • Powerful storms rip through eastern U.S.

    Powerful storms raking across several states in the eastern U.S. on Sunday have destroyed at least 10 homes in Tennessee, and there were no immediate reports of any deaths or injuries, authorities said.

    July 27, 2014

  • Lawmakers say Obama too aloof with Congress

    President Barack Obama’s request for billions of dollars to deal with migrant children streaming across the border set off Democrats and Republicans. Lawmakers in both parties complained that the White House — six years in — still doesn’t get it when it comes to working with Congress.

    July 27, 2014

  • U.S. faces intelligence hurdles in downing of airliner

    A series of unanswered questions about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shows the limits of U.S. intelligence gathering even when it is intensely focused, as it has been in Ukraine since Russia seized Crimea in March.

    July 27, 2014

  • House approves bill to boost child tax credit for some

    More families with higher incomes could claim the popular child tax credit under a bill that won approval Friday in the House. But in a dispute that divides Republicans and Democrats, millions of the poorest low-income families would still lose the credit in 2018, when enhancements championed by President Barack Obama are set to expire.

    July 26, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia firing across border into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.
    Russia accused Washington of lying and charged Ukraine with firing across the border on a Russian village. It also toughened its economic measures against Ukraine by banning dairy imports.

    July 26, 2014

  • U.N. school in Gaza in cross-fire; 15 killed

    A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

    July 25, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads