Under the leadership of Harry Reid, and with the blessing of President Obama, Senate Democrats actually nuked the filibuster.
According to Chris Cillizza, Sean Sullivan, the issue that Reid saw as important enough to do something he said would change the U.S. Senate forever is the confirmation of three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals – D.C. Circuit:
This time around, Democrats have pushed three nominees to the crucial D.C. circuit court, which handles most of the critical cases on interpreting federal law. The Rs say the court — which tilts toward GOP-appointed judges at the moment — doesn’t need any more judges. And McCain’s gang of GOP senators agreed, blocking all 3 of Obama’s nominees.
The issue was similar last July when Reid and company convinced the Republicans to capitulate on President Obama’s terrible nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. In tricking the Republicans into approving numerous nominees the Democrats promised they were “not touching judges.”
Harry Reid (D-NV): “We’re not touching judges. That’s what they were talking about. This is not judges.” (NBC’s “Meet The Press,” 7/14/13)
Reid didn’t stop there. He made a similar promise at a Press briefing:
Harry Reid (D-NV): “We’re not talking about changing the filibuster rules that relates to nominations for judges. …this is not about judges.” (Sen. Reid, Press Briefing, 7/11/13)
Reid wasn’t alone in making such representations. Senators Sherrod Brown and Amy Klobuchar also offered similar assurances:
Sherrod Brown (D-OH): “…I think any president should have the ability to put people in place for the — at the pleasure of the president. These are not judges. That’s a whole another issue.” (MSNBC, 7/9/13)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): “…I don’t understand why for these nominees, I’m not talking about judges here, I’m talking about the president’s team, of which there are currently over 180 people that are just pending right now before the Senate for the Executive Office nominations. Why we can’t just do 51 votes is beyond me.” (ABC’s “This Week,” 7/14/13)
We reported on Reid’s threatened use of the nuclear option then and apparently it’s time to dust that article off and publish parts of it again.
Harry Reid was the Senate Democrats’ Whip when George W. Bush became president. Under him, the Senate Democrats mounted an unprecedented filibuster campaign against Bush’s judicial nominees. According to The Heritage Foundation’s Todd Gaziano, the average number of days a Court of Appeals nominee waited for final Senate action grew from 39 during the Reagan Presidency, 95 during the George H. W. Bush Presidency, and 115 during the Clinton Presidency to 400 during the first 22 months of the second Bush presidency.
The Democrats’ unprecedented delays imposed upon Bush’s judicial nominees resulted in talk of using the nuclear option to end the Democrats’ filibusters. The nuclear option is shorthand for changing the Senate rules so that presidential nominations would no longer be subject to filibuster — meaning they could be approved with just 51 votes, as opposed to the usual 60.
This is something that Senate Democrats warned about in apocalyptic terms when they were in the minority.
In May 2005 it looked as if Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was actually going to pull the nuclear trigger. Sen. Reid gave a decent speech on the Senate floor explaining why nuking the filibuster would be wrong:
The filibuster is far from a “procedural gimmick.” It is part of the fabric of this institution. It was well known in colonial legislatures, and it is an integral part of our country’s 217 years of history.
The first filibuster in the U.S. Congress happened in 1790. It was used by lawmakers from Virginia and South Carolina who were trying to prevent Philadelphia from hosting the first Congress.
Since 1790, the filibuster has been employed hundreds and hundreds of times.
Senators have used it to stand up to popular presidents. To block legislation. And yes – even to stall executive nominees.
[. . .]
It encourages moderation and consensus. It gives voice to the minority, so that cooler heads may prevail.
It also separates us from the House of Representatives – where the majority rules.
And it is very much in keeping with the spirit of the government established by the Framers of our Constitution: Limited Government…Separation of Powers…Checks and Balances.
Mr. President, the filibuster is a critical tool in keeping the majority in check. This central fact has been acknowledged and even praised by Senators from both parties.
[. . .]
For 200 years, we’ve had the right to extended debate. It’s not some “procedural gimmick.”
It’s within the vision of the Founding Fathers of our country. They established a government so that no one person – and no single party – could have total control.
Some in this Chamber want to throw out 217 years of Senate history in the quest for absolute power.
Reid wasn’t the only Senate Democrat to speak against the nuclear option in 2005. Senators Obama, Biden, Clinton, Baucus, Dodd, Feinstein, and Schumer, also railed against the proposed use of reconciliation to end Democrat filibusters.
You can watch highlights of some of their speeches in the following video:
BARACK OBAMA 4/13/05: “Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to think about the implications of what has been called the nuclear option and what effect that might have on this Chamber and on this country. I urge all of us to think not just about winning every debate but about protecting free and democratic debate.” (Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Floor remarks, Washington, DC, 4/13/05, Click here to watch.)
BARACK OBAMA 4/13/05: “The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.” (Sen. Barack Obama, Floor remarks, Washington, D.C., 4/13/05, Click here to watch.)
BARACK OBAMA 4/13/05: “Right now we are faced with rising gas prices, skyrocketing tuition costs, a record number of uninsured Americans, and some of the most serious national security threats we have ever had, while our bravest young men and women are risking their lives halfway around the world to keep us safe. These are challenges we all want to meet and problems we all want to solve, even if we do not always agree on how to do it. But if the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who ask us to be their voice, I fear the partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That does not serve anybody’s best interest, and it certainly is not what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind. We owe the people who sent us here more than that. We owe them much more.” (Sen. Barack Obama, Floor remarks, Washington, D.C., 4/13/05, Click here to watch.)
Barack Obama 4/25/05: “The President hasn’t gotten his way. And that is now prompting a change in the Senate rules that really I think would change the character of the Senate forever…what I worry about would be that you essentially still have two chambers the House and the Senate but you have simply majoritarian absolute power on either side, and that’s just not what the founders intended.”
Hillary Clinton 5/23/2005: “So this President has come to the majority in the Senate and basically said: Change the rules. Do it the way I want it done. And I guess there were not very many voices on the other side of the aisle that acted the way previous generations of Senators have acted and said: Mr. President, we are with you. We support you. But that is a bridge too far. We cannot go there. You have to restrain yourself, Mr. President. We have confirmed 95 percent of your nominees. And if you cannot get 60 votes for a nominee, maybe you should think about who you are sending to us to be confirmed because for a lifetime appointment, 60 votes, bringing together a consensus of Senators from all regions of the country, who look at the same record and draw the same conclusion, means that perhaps that nominee should not be on the Federal bench.” (Sen. Hillary Clinton, Floor remarks, 5/23/05, Click here to watch.)
Charles Schumer 5/18/2005: “We are on the precipice of a crisis, a constitutional crisis. The checks and balances which have been at the core of this Republic are about to be evaporated by the nuclear option. The checks and balances which say that if you get 51% of the vote you don’t get your way 100% of the time. It is amazing it’s almost a temper tantrum.”
Harry Reid 5/18/2005: “Mr. President the right to extended debate is never more important than the one party who controls congress and the white house. In these cases the filibuster serves as a check on power and preserves our limited government.”
Dianne Feinstein 5/18/2005: “The nuclear option if successful will turn the senate into a body that could have its rules broken at any time by a majority of senators unhappy with any position taken by the minority. It begins with judicial nominations. Next will be executive appointments and then legislation.”
Joe Biden 5/23/2005: “Mr. President, my friends and colleagues, I have not been here as long as Senator Byrd, and no one fully understands the Senate as well as Senator Byrd, but I have been here for over three decades. This is the single most significant vote any one of us will cast in my 32 years in the Senate. I suspect the Senator would agree with that. We should make no mistake. This nuclear option is ultimately an example of the arrogance of power. It is a fundamental power grab by the majority party, propelled by its extreme right and designed to change the reading of the Constitution, particularly as it relates to individual rights and property rights. It is nothing more or nothing less. … We have been through these periods before in American history but never, to the best of my knowledge, has any party been so bold as to fundamentally attempt to change the structure of this body.” (Sen. Joe Biden, Floor remarks, Washington, D.C., 5/23/05, Click here to watch.)
Harry Reid 5/18/2005: “But no we are not going to follow the Senate rules. No, because of the arrogance of power of this Republican administration.”
Chris Dodd 5/18/2005: “I’ve never passed a single bill worth talking about that didn’t have a lead co-sponsor that was a Republican. And I don’t know of a single piece of legislation that’s ever been adopted here that didn’t have a Republican and Democrat in the lead. That’s because we need to sit down and work with each other. The rules of this institution have required that. That’s why we exist. Why have a bicameral legislative body? Why have two chambers? What were the framers thinking about 218 years ago? They understood Mr. President that there is a tyranny of the majority.”
Dianne Feinstein 5/18/2005: “If the Republican leadership insists on forcing the nuclear option the senate becomes ipso facto the House of Representatives where the majority rules supreme and the party of power can dominate and control the agenda with absolute power.”
Hillary Clinton 5/23/2005: “You’ve got majority rule and then you have the senate over here where people can slow things down where they can debate where they have something called the filibuster. You know it seems like it’s a little less than efficient — well that’s right it is. And deliberately designed to be so.”
Harry Reid 5/18/05: “The filibuster is not a scheme and it certainly isn’t new. The filibuster is far from a procedural gimmick. It’s part of the fabric of this institution we call the Senate. It was well-known in colonial legislatures before we became a country, and it’s an integral part of our country’s 214-year history. The first filibuster in the United States Congress happened in 1790. It was used by lawmakers from Virginia and South Carolina who were trying to prevent Philadelphia from hosting the first Congress. Since then, the filibuster has been employed hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. It’s been employed on legislative matters, it’s been employed on procedural matters relating to the president’s nominations for Cabinet and sub-Cabinet posts, and it’s been used on judges for all those years. One scholar estimates that 20 percent of the judges nominated by presidents have fallen by the wayside, most of them as a result of filibusters. Senators have used the filibuster to stand up to popular presidents, to block legislation, and, yes, even, as I’ve stated, to stall executive nominees. The roots of the filibuster are found in the Constitution and in our own rules.” (Sen. Harry Reid, Floor remarks, 5/18/05, Click here to watch.)
Harry Reid 5/18/05: “For 200 years we’ve had the right to extended debate. It’s not some procedural gimmick. It’s within the vision of the founding fathers of our country. They did it; we didn’t do it. They established a government so that no one person and no single party could have total control. Some in this chamber want to throw out 214 years of Senate history in the quest for absolute power. They want to do away with Mr. Smith, as depicted in that great movie, being able to come to Washington. They want to do away with the filibuster. They think they’re wiser than our founding fathers. I doubt that that’s true.” (Sen. Harry Reid, Floor remarks, 5/18/05, Click here to watch.)
Hillary Clinton 5/23/2005: “And I just had to hope that maybe between now and the time we have this vote there would be enough Senators who will say: Mr. President, no. We are sorry, we cannot go there. We are going to remember our Founders. We are going to remember what made this country great. We are going to maintain the integrity of the U.S. Senate.” (Sen. Hillary Clinton, Floor remarks, 5/23/05, Click here to watch.)
Joe Biden 5/23/05: “Isn’t what is really going on here that the majority does not want to hear what others have to say, even if it is the truth? Senator Moynihan, my good friend who I served with for years, said: You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. The nuclear option abandons America’s sense of fair play. It is the one thing this country stands for: Not tilting the playing field on the side of those who control and own the field. I say to my friends on the Republican side: You may own the field right now, but you won’t own it forever. I pray God when the Democrats take back control, we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are doing. But I am afraid you will teach my new colleagues the wrong lessons.” (Sen. Joe Biden, Floor remarks, 5/23/05, Click here to watch.)
Charles Schumer 5/23/2005: “They want their way every single time. And they will change the rules, break the rules, and misread the constitution so that they will get their way.”
Hillary Clinton 5/23/2005: “The Senate is being asked to turn itself inside out, to ignore the precedent to ignore the way our system has work, the delicate balance that we have obtain that has kept this constitution system going, for immediate gratification of the present President.”
Max Baucus 5/19/2005: “This is the way Democracy ends. Not with a bomb but with a gavel.”
Mitch McConnell appropriately summed it all up today, “If you like the rules of the Senate, you can keep them.”
Cooler heads prevailed in 2005. The so-called Gang of 14 negotiated a compromise which avoided the deployment of the nuclear option.
In 2008, Reid talked about the importance of the filibuster with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle during an interview about Reid’s book, “The Good Fight.” Reid told Daschle that as long as he was the Senate leader the Senate would not face the nuclear option. That the threat of using it was a “black chapter in the history of the Senate” and that he really believes it will “ruin our country.”
Don’t take my word for it. You can watch the discussion between Reid and Daschle here. You can also read a transcript of it below:
Daschle: You talk Harry about the nuclear option, you just mentioned it on chapter seven of your book, describes the circumstances with the nuclear option. Just so our viewers can better understand, what was the nuclear option and what likelihood is there that we going to have to face nuclear option-like questions again?
Reid: What the Republicans came up with was a way to change our country forever. They made a decision if they didn’t get every judge they wanted, every judge they wanted, then they were going to make the Senate just like the House of Representatives. We would in effect have a unicameral legislature where a simple majority would determine whatever happens.
In the House of Representatives today Pelosi is the leader. Prior to that was Hastert. Whatever they wanted, Hastret or Pelosi, they get done. The rules over there allow that. The Senate was set up to be different. That was the genius, the vision, of our founding fathers – that this bicameral legislature, which was unique, had two different duties. One, was as Franklin said, to pour the coffee into the saucer and let it cool off. That‘s why you have the ability to filibuster and to terminate filibuster. They wanted to get rid of all that. That’s what the nuke option all about.
Daschle: And is there any likelihood that we’re going to face circumstances like that again?
Reid: As long as I’m the leader, the answer is no. I think we should just forget that. That is a black chapter in the history of the Senate. I hope we never, ever get to that again. Because I really do believe it will ruin our country. I’ve said, I said during that debate, that in all my years in government, that is the most important thing I ever worked on.
Reid put it this way in his book, the nuclear option “would lead to the end of the United States Senate”:
“I just couldn’t believe that Bill Frist was going to do this. The storm had been gathering all year, and word from conservative columnists and in conservative circles was that Senator Frist of Tennessee, who was the Majority Leader, had decided to pursue a rules change that would kill the filibuster for judicial nominations. And once you opened that Pandora’s box, it was just a matter of time before a Senate leader who couldn’t get his way on something moved to eliminate the filibuster for regular business as well. And that, simply put, would be the end of the United States Senate.” – Harry Reid in his 2008 book “The Good Fight”
What could justify Reid’s use of the nuclear option he has repeatedly said “would be the end of the United States Senate,” “would ruin the country,” and even the threat of using it was “a black chapter in the history of the Senate?”
As Reid has written, once you open that Pandora’s box, it’s just a matter of time before a Senate leader who can’t get his way on something moves to eliminate the filibuster for regular business as well. “And that, simply put, would be the end of the United States Senate.”
Reid’s nuking of the filibuster provides a couple of teaching moments. first, it is an example of why Republicans can’t afford to compromise with the Democrats. When you try to appease them, it just encourages them and they keep coming back for more. You would think that with the bashing they are taking over ObamaCare the Democrats would have learned more respect for governing by consensus as opposed to strick party-line simple majority rule.
Second, it demonstrates that President Obama isn’t the only Democrat who has an honesty problem.