TAK­ING ON HIS­TORY AND HYPOCRITES

Sen­a­tors swear ‘nu­clear op­tion’ is last fight in fil­i­buster war

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALEX SWOYER

Even as sen­a­tors pre­pare to trig­ger the “nu­clear op­tion,” both Democrats and Repub­li­cans in­sisted this is as far as it goes, and they’ll never try to do away with their power to fil­i­buster ac­tual bills.

Liv­ing up to that prom­ise, how­ever, could be tough.

Thurs­day’s vote to cur­tail the fil­i­buster on Supreme Court nom­i­nees and to speed Judge Neil Gor­such to­ward fi­nal con­fir­ma­tion is just the lat­est strike, or­ches­trated this time by the GOP. Four years ago it was Democrats who used the nu­clear op­tion for the pres­i­dent’s Cabi­net, low­er­court judges and all other nom­i­nees save for the Supreme Court.

But Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell flatly ruled out go­ing any fur­ther.

“There’s no sen­ti­ment to change the leg­isla­tive fil­i­buster,” he said Tues­day.

The fil­i­buster is the iconic power of the Se­nate — the thing that makes it dif­fer­ent from the House, where the ma­jor­ity al­ways rules. The Se­nate, mean­while, op­er­ates on con­sent, giv­ing even a sin­gle law­maker ex­tra­or­di­nary abil­i­ties to gum up the works, forc­ing lead­ers to go through a long series of hoops just to get leg­is­la­tion to the floor, much less get it ap­proved.

Both par­ties ac­knowl­edge they’ve been guilty of abus­ing the power, but they in­sist

they re­spect it and don’t want to see it dis­ap­pear.

“I can’t speak for the Democrats,” said Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Repub­li­can. “I can say that there’s no plans what­so­ever and no con­cern on be­half of the Repub­li­cans.”

The prob­lem is, they’re not sure what the other party might do.

“I am wor­ried about that,” said Sen. Michael F. Ben­net, one of just four Democrats who is break­ing with his party’s fil­i­buster and back­ing Judge Gor­such.

The pres­sure could be too much for ei­ther party to re­sist.

Both Democrats and Repub­li­cans in the House have com­plained in re­cent years that they pass bills only to see them die in the fil­i­buster-spawned grid­lock of the Se­nate.

There’s no of­fi­cial count of fil­i­busters, but a rough ap­prox­i­ma­tion can be gleaned from the num­ber of “clo­ture” pe­ti­tions filed to set an end to de­bate. As late as the 1950s, sen­a­tors would go an en­tire Congress with­out ever fac­ing a clo­ture vote.

They be­gan to be­come more com­mon in the 1970s, be­came preva­lent in the 1990s and be­came ev­ery­day oc­cur­rences un­der Pres­i­dent Obama.

The Se­nate tal­lied 218 clo­ture votes in the 113th Congress, which spanned 2013 and 2014 — when Mr. Obama was in the White House and Repub­li­cans were the mi­nor­ity in the Se­nate.

Sen. Su­san M. Collins is try­ing to re­build the trust be­tween the two par­ties. She said she’s or­ga­niz­ing a pledge drive to get sen­a­tors to com­mit to pre­serv­ing the fil­i­buster for bills.

“I am go­ing to lead a let­ter to our two lead­ers that puts as many of us as pos­si­ble on record as say­ing that we would not sup­port the elim­i­na­tion of the leg­isla­tive fil­i­buster,” she said.

She had even tried to head off this week’s show­down on Supreme Court nom­i­nees, work­ing with a bi­par­ti­san group of about 10 sen­a­tors to see if they could strike an­other deal.

Those ef­forts fell short. “There was so lit­tle trust be­tween the two par­ties that it was very dif­fi­cult to put to­gether an agree­ment,” Ms. Collins said.

She said Democrats poi­soned the sit­u­a­tion in 2013, when they trig­gered the nu­clear op­tion. Democrats say they were fol­low­ing a path the GOP first pon­dered in 2005.

Back dur­ing that first fight, Ms. Collins joined what was known as the Gang of 14 — seven Repub­li­cans and seven Democrats — who joined to­gether and struck their own deal, head­ing off the nu­clear op­tion.

The Democrats agreed to con­firm a series of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ju­di­cial nom­i­nees, who had been blocked by Demo­cratic fil­i­busters, while the GOP sen­a­tors agreed not to use the nu­clear op­tion.

That agree­ment held for sev­eral years, even af­ter Mr. Obama was elected, but be­gan to fray by his sec­ond term.

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

LOG­JAM: Repub­li­cans have threat­ened the “nu­clear op­tion” to con­firm Judge Neil Gor­such (top) to the Supreme Court if Democrats fil­i­buster. Sen. Jeff Merkley (bot­tom) once tried to cur­tail fil­i­busters for hold­ing up Pres­i­dent Obama’s nom­i­nees.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell ruled out chang­ing leg­isla­tive fil­i­buster rules in light of Democrats boy­cotting a vote on Judge Neil Gor­such for the Supreme Court. Un­like in the House, where the ma­jor­ity rules, a fil­i­buster can de­rail Se­nate busi­ness.

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