Filibuster Reform Kicks Open the Coffin and Returns From the Dead

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 22 2013 10:42 AM

Filibuster Reform Kicks Open the Coffin and Returns From the Dead

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Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is sworn in before testifying at a confirmation hearing on March 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

So far, it seems like only Greg Sargent and HuffPost are noticing: Democrats are talking about filibuster reform again. The latest progress report comes in this story from Ryan Grim and Jennifer Bendery, who find Democratic senators newly frustrated by their failure to pass bills or confirm nominees, especially CFPB head Richard Cordray.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Reid indicated Tuesday that he would bring Cordray's nomination to a vote in July, and a Senate Democratic aide said that vote will come at a time when Reid is ready to launch into a broader fight over all of Obama's stalled nominees. The "plan is to wait until immigration is complete before engaging in total all-out nom[ination] fight," said the aide.

What kind of fight are we talking about? It starts with Democrats claiming to hold 51 votes to end the filibuster on executive branch nominees, because Republicans are being unreasonable. Republicans have tried to blunt the attack by proving that, hey, they're letting people through and you're not noticing.

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"This President is being treated exceptionally fairly," said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, on the floor this week. "The President has recently submitted a few new nominations.  I know I have been reminding him that we can’t do anything about vacancies without him first sending up nominees. But again, even with the recent nominations, 58 of 82 nominations still have no nominee."

Basically, Republicans need to lower the temperature and portray Democrats as unreasonable liars. "More executive branch appointments, confirmations, by and large -- it's been handled in a very bipartisan way," said Mitch McConnell yesterday in his brief weekly on-camera press conference. This is one reason you saw so much harrumphing when Sen. Ted Cruz bragged to Texas conservatives that "squishes" sold him out on his filibuster of the motion to proceed to debate on guns. That fed into the public impression that Republicans were obstructionists -- and, well, they are, for lots of good reasons, but it's tough to sell when something popular is being obstructed.

So Republicans hype the nominees they let through, ask why Obama isn't sending more nominees, and (as Daniel Foster pointed out in National Review) nominating conservatives for mandatory seats on bipartisan panels, whenever possible. They also express shock that Democrats would change the rules, or think about it.

"The majority leader said earlier this year that he would not change the rules in any extraordinary way, the nuclear option, in this Congress," said McConnell on Tuesday. "I take him at his word. The assumption is that will not be done."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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