Editorials: Return of the wheel
Harry Reid’s ‘nuclear option’ warms no Democratic hearts now
The wheel that goes around comes around, and the fancy footwork of a boxer is required to avoid getting run over. Harry Reid, a onetime boxer who was then the leader of a Democratic majority in the Senate, thought he had the footwork three years ago to risk repealing the Senate’s filibuster rule, which required 60 votes to suspend debate and vote on presidential nominations to high federal office. A new rule requires only a simple majority, or 51 votes.
Mr. Reid’s change enabled President Obama and the Democrats to push to confirmation three very liberal nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which is almost as important as the U.S. Supreme Court.
All but three of the 55 Democrats voted for the change. None of the 45 Republicans did, because at the time the old rule was the only way they could block President Obama from packing U.S. district and appellate courts with liberal ideologues, as well as nominees to Cabinet and executive-branch jobs requiring Senate confirmation. The 60-vote requirement was left in place for nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mr. Reid and his leadership team held a victory party after the vote with liberal activists and lobbyists in a room just off the Senate floor. It was an occasion for mirth and champagne. Now the party positions are reversed, and Mr. Reid, retiring from the Senate, won’t be around to live with the fallout from his so-called “nuclear option.”
But other Democrats will. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware is one who concedes that he has a little buyer’s remorse with the new Senate at hand to preside over Donald Trump’s nominations to high office. Mr. Coons was asked by CNN News last week whether he regrets following Mr. Reid to change the rules.
“I frankly think many of us will regret that in this Congress,” he said, “because [the filibuster] would have been a terrific speed bump, potential emergency brake, to have in our system to slow down the confirmation of extreme nominees.” That’s exactly what Republicans thought three years ago.
Senate Democrats who have identified targets for their ire among Mr. Trump’s announced nominees will be unable to block with filibusters the likes of Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who they regard as insufficiently passionate about civil rights, nominated for U.S. attorney general, and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, a fervent critic of Obamacare, nominated for secretary of Health and Human Services.
Republicans warned their Democratic colleagues in 2013 that someday the shoe would be on the other foot, but the Democrats were determined to get what they could while they could.
“Democrats won’t be in power in perpetuity,” Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama told them. “This is a mistake — a big one for the long run.” Now Democrats must rest their hopes on persuading a few squishy Republican senators to join them in blocking the new president’s nominees, and here comes that wheel.