The Senate's next Republican leader issued a veiled threat to block action on legislation if Democrats refuse to allow confirmation votes on President Bush's troubled judicial nominations.Wait a sec. Is Senator McConnell really threatening (and I suppose he is) to filibuster other legislation unless Dubya's nominees get to bypass the entire Senate process and get an up-or-down vote?
Sen. Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record) of Kentucky, who will become minority leader Jan. 4, told the conservative Federalist Society Friday not to feel bad about the Senate election results because Republicans will hold 49 seats in a body that requires 60 votes to end a filibuster and bring legislation or presidential nominees to a final vote.
If the "Democrats want our cooperation, they'll give the president's judicial nominee an up-or-down vote," McConnell said.
Even though Senator Frist admitted on the Senate floor on May 12, 2005 that there's no Constitutional requirement for all Judicial nominees to get an "up or down" vote:
Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, I would Mr. President, here is my guide, the Constitution of the United States. What does it say? Does it say that each nominee shall have an up-or-down vote? Does it say that? I ask the Senator from Tennessee, I ask any Senator to respond to that question. Does this Constitution accord to each nominee an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor?So Mitch McConnell is threatening to stop legislation (unreleated legislation) for in order to force something that is not even Constitutionally mandated.
Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, I would be happy to respond to the question that has been directed to me.
Mr. BYRD. I ask unanimous consent that I may yield without losing my right to the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. The Senator from Tennessee is recognized.
Mr. FRIST. To the question, does the Constitution say that every nominee of the President deserves an up-or-down vote, the answer is, no, the language is not there. [emphasis added]
Ah, Republicans. You have to admire such a respect for tradition.
This brief primer should suffice to illustrate how the GOP views rules and traditions that get in the way of their power:
Originally, after Republicans gained control of the Senate in the 1994 elections and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch assumed control of the Judiciary Committee, the rule regarding judicial nominees was this: If a single senator from a nominee's home state objected to (or "blue-slipped") a nomination, it was dead. This rule made it easy for Republicans to obstruct Clinton's nominees.Here's a thought for the new Judiciary Committee: Reset the rules to exactly what they were when there was a Democrat in the White House and the Republicans used the rules to block President Clinton's nominees. Senator Feinstein in 2005:
But in 2001, when a Republican became president, Hatch suddenly reversed course and decided that it should take objections from both home-state senators to block a nominee. That made it harder for Democrats to obstruct George W. Bush's nominees.
In early 2003 Hatch went even further: Senatorial objections were merely advisory, he said. Even if both senators objected to a nomination, it could still go to the floor for a vote.
Finally, a few weeks later, yet another barrier was torn down: Hatch did away with "Rule IV," which states that at least one member of the minority has to agree in order to end discussion about a nomination and move it out of committee.
When Democrats were in the White House -- I will talk for a moment on Senate procedure -- Republicans used the filibuster and other procedural delays to deny judicial nominees an up-or-down vote. So denying a judicial nominee an up-or-down vote is nothing new. It has been done over and over and over again. I speak as a member of the Judiciary Committee for 12 years, and I have seen it done over and over and over again.Tradition - reset the rules and ignore McConnell's childishly absurd threat.
So why suddenly is an up-or-down vote now the be all and end all?
Last administration, Republicans used the practice of blue slips or an anonymous hold, which I have just described, to allow a single Senator -- not 41 Senators, but 1 -- to prevent a nomination from receiving a vote in the Judiciary Committee, a 60-vote cloture vote on the floor, or an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate. This was a filibuster of one, and it can still take place within the Judiciary Committee.
The fact is, more than 60 judicial nominees suffered this fate during the last administration. In other words, over 60 Clinton judges were filibustered successfully by one Senator, often anonymous, often in secret, no debate as to why. It was an effective blackball.