The U.S. Senate Democrats just voted 52 to 48 to eliminate most filibusters of Presidential nominations. Exercising the “nuclear option” they scuttled a long-standing tradition by now allowing a simple majority vote on Presidential nominations rather than a super majority.
This was a mistake, and it’s amazing how Democrats have forgotten the arguments they employed when Republicans wrongly considered and rightly rejected such a move under President George W. Bush.
In 2005 then Senator Barack Obama called for his colleagues considering the nuclear option to consider “free and democratic debate.” : “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)
Obama: “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)
Obama: “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)
In 2005 then Senator Joe Biden called the nuclear option the “single most significant vote” in his “32 years in the Senate.” He also called it an “example of the arrogance of power.” Biden: “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)
“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)
Senator Harry Reid, In 2005: “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)
Reid: “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)
Then Senator Hillary Clinton said in 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)
Clinton: “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)