Diary

The Republicans finally learn to play hardball

Orrin Hatch shows Mitch McConnell what a backbone really is. From msn.com:

Senate panel backs Price as health secretary, Mnuchin for Treasury

By Susan Cornwell and David Lawder | Wednesday, 1 February 2017 | 10:01 AM EST

WASHINGTON, Feb 1 (Reuters) – The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to confirm Representative Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services and banker Steven Mnuchin to be treasury secretary, sending the nominations to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

Democrats tried to block the committee vote for a second day by boycotting the meeting, but Republicans changed the rules that had required Democrats to be present for quorum.

The Republican members then approved the nominees 14-0.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and one who has long supported the ‘old’ Senate rules. He opposed the Democrats’ change in the Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for cabinet and judicial nominations, other than for the Supreme Court, but finally saw the writing on the wall. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, he said:

But that fundamental goal—protecting liberty—counsels against blindly returning to the prior status quo. Some bells cannot be unrung. Chief among these is Sen. (Harry) Reid’s decision to invoke the “nuclear option” to strip minority senators of their ability to filibuster judicial nominees.

The nuclear option allowed President Obama and his allies to reshape the judicial branch dramatically to suit their far-left agenda. And the Democrats were not shy in boasting of their achievement. This summer, after a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the administration’s efforts to extend subsidies to the federal ObamaCare exchange—in clear violation of the plain words of the Affordable Care Act and the stated intent of its architects—the newly minted majority of Democratic appointees on that court voted to rehear the case “en banc.” Sen. Reid announced that the “simple math” of the D.C. Circuit’s new majority of Democratic-appointed judges would serve to “vindicate” Democrats’ use of the nuclear option, presumably by preserving the administration’s signature legislative achievement.

and

To restore the rule now, after Mr. Obama has installed his controversial judges, would cement a partisan double standard: When Democrats control the White House and Senate, judicial nominations need only 50 votes; but when Republicans control both, judicial nominations require 60 votes, allowing Democratic minorities to block Republican nominations.

This would be only the latest example of a destructive pattern of double standards. Under President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, Senate Democrats savaged the Robert Bork,David Souter and Clarence Thomas nominations. During the Clinton administration, Republicans were largely deferential to the Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer nominations, an olive branch that Democrats ignored as they attacked the John Roberts and Samuel Alito nominations and launched unprecedented filibusters of lower-court nominations under President George W. Bush. (For all of its harm, at least the nuclear option restored the pre-2003 tradition against filibustering judicial nominations, which Democrats violated in order to block the George W. Bush nominees.)

Simply put, if Republicans re-establish the judicial-nomination filibuster, it would remain in place only until the moment that a new Democratic majority decided that discarding the rule again would be useful.

And now, the Democrats’ tactics of boycotting the nomination hearings pushed Senator Hatch into suspending the rules. When the Democrats did that, they pushed over their final bit of strength: as reluctant as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is to use the so-called ‘nuclear option,’ when he sees what Senator Hatch accomplished, and the huge swell of support it will get from the Republican base, Senator McConnell will be emboldened, his spine stiffened, and if the Democrats try to filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, he will use the nuclear option to guarantee a vote on the nomination.

It was interesting, watching MSNBC this morning. One ‘panelist,’ a lady with some connection to moveon.org,¹ was telling us that the Democrats in the Senate, by boycotting the committee hearings,² and by threatening to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination even before the selection of Judge Gorsuch was announced, were catching up to the Democratic base, and I agree with her: that’s exactly what the Democrat Senators did.

But her statement carried a strong message: if the Republican Senators see that the Democrats are listening to their base, then the GOP had better do the same, and the Republicans and conservatives at the grass-roots level want the GOP to actually use its majority status to ram through Judge Gorsuch’s nomination.

The Democrats overplayed their hand, and Senator Hatch just plain bitch-slapped them for doing so. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) really, really wants to filibuster Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, but with Mr Hatch’s actions, he now knows: Senator McConnell will use the nuclear option if necessary, and maybe, just maybe, the Democrats will decide not to filibuster, knowing what the result will be. Senator Schumer has already said that he would insist that Judge Gorsuch be approved by 60 votes rather than a simple majority of 51, but Senator Hatch has just presented him with a new reality.
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¹ – I guess that I should’ve written it down, but really, she was too insignificant for it to matter.
² – The committee rules require that at least one member of the minority party be present for votes.
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Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.