Anti-fil­i­buster rule let Obama stack courts with lib­eral judges

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Con­ser­va­tive lead­ers penned a memo to Se­nate Repub­li­cans on Wed­nes­day urg­ing them not to be hasty in un­do­ing Democrats’ “nu­clear op­tion,” di­rectly chal­leng­ing GOP leader Mitch McCon­nell and fore­shad­ow­ing a host of in­ter­nal bat­tles ahead.

Mr. McCon­nell has said Repub­li­cans would con­sider rev­ers­ing the “nu­clear op­tion” that Se­nate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, im­posed to de­fen­es­trate a mi­nor­ity party’s use of fil­i­busters to block pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees. But more than two dozen con­ser­va­tive lead­ers said in their memo that they now embrace the rule change.

The new rule gave Pres­i­dent Obama a one-year chance to stack the courts with lib­eral ap­pointees at the majority thresh­old. If Mr. McCon­nell re­vives the 60-vote clo­ture rule, the con­ser­va­tives said, fu­ture pres­i­dents — in­clud­ing, pre­sum­ably, Repub­li­cans — would have to meet the higher goal for ju­di­cial ap­point­ments.

“Such a move would con­sti­tute uni­lat­eral dis­ar­ma­ment on the part of Repub­li­cans and give Se­na­tor Reid and his left-wing al­lies yet another vic­tory in their bat­tle to tilt the con­fir­ma­tion process in fa­vor of lib­eral nom­i­nees,” said the lead­ers, who in­cluded aca­demics, grass-roots ac­tivists and con­ser­va­tive le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The let­ter is the first chal­lenge to Mr. McCon­nell, who con­fi­dently pre­dicted Wed­nes­day that his col­leagues will elect him next week to be majority leader when the Se­nate con­venes in Jan­uary.

In the next cou­ple of weeks, Mr. McCon­nell and House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, are likely to be tested over “tax ex­ten­ders,” a pack­age of tar­geted tax breaks that chiefly ben­e­fit busi­nesses, and over the an­nual spend­ing bills, which are al­ready more than a month over­due.

Some law­mak­ers want to ap­prove another short-term ex­ten­sion so they can re­visit all spend­ing early next year. Democrats are likely to push for an om­nibus bill that packs in all of the year’s spend­ing.

Seem­ingly try­ing to tamp down spec­u­la­tion about those early fights, Mr. McCon­nell told re­porters that Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Repub­li­can, called to con­grat­u­late him on his re-elec­tion in Ken­tucky.

Mr. Cruz led in­sur­rec­tions against Se­nate Repub­li­can lead­ers sev­eral times over the past two years and re­fused to say in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view Tues­day whether he would back Mr. McCon­nell for leader.

Mr. McCon­nell said he isn’t wor­ried.

“Let me just make a pre­dic­tion for you: A week from to­mor­row, I’ll be elected majority leader of the Se­nate,” he said.

The House and Se­nate ap­pear set to re­turn all of their top lead­ers, in­clud­ing Mr. Reid and House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat. Both have said they will re­claim their spots de­spite dev­as­tat­ing elec­tion losses for their party.

For Mr. Reid, it means a de­mo­tion to mi­nor­ity leader.

In his own com­ments Wed­nes­day, Mr. McCon­nell re­peat­edly chas­tised Mr. Reid for us­ing the nu­clear op­tion and for clamp­ing down on a Se­nate tra­di­tion in which law­mak­ers from both the majority and the mi­nor­ity would to be able to of­fer amend­ments and force votes.

He vowed to make the Se­nate work late nights and full weeks to fin­ish its business.

“The first thing I need to do is get the Se­nate back to nor­mal,” Mr. McCon­nell said at a press con­fer­ence in Louisville, Ken­tucky. “That means work­ing more. I don’t think we’ve had any votes on Fri­day in any­body’s mem­ory. It means open­ing the Se­nate up so that amend­ments are per­mit­ted on both sides.”

Mr. McCon­nell was cir­cum­spect on whether he would re­verse Mr. Reid’s fil­i­buster change, but said he would raise the is­sue with his fel­low Repub­li­cans.

“It was a huge, huge mis­take, in my view,” he said, though he point­edly added that “it is hard to un­ring a bell.”

Mrs. Pelosi, in a let­ter to her col­leagues, said she has un­fin­ished business that is driv­ing her to re­main leader for another Congress.

She said the chief mes­sage she took from the elec­toral evis­cer­a­tion of Democrats at all lev­els is that voter sup­pres­sion was a prob­lem.

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