Wednesday, November 02, 2005

vote me up, vote me down

remember the "nuclear option"? the idea, so they argued, was that anyone the president nominates for a position deserves a full vote in the senate. it wouldn't matter if bush nominated satan himself for a spot on scotus: if the president nominated him, so the right-wing told us, then satan would be entitled to have the full floor of the senate vote on his nomination. they insisted that the line in the constitution that says that the senate should "advise and consent" to the president's nominations doesn't mean that nominees will only be appointed if the senate consents to them—rather, it meant that the senate must consent, and has no choice but to consent, to whatever whacko bush feels like putting up there, making the senate the largest "rubber stamp" in the country.

we always knew this was bullhockey. things had never been done that way before—republican as well as democratic senators had always reveled in the myriad ways to shut down a nominee, preferably long before a vote could take place. the only reason the right insisted that nominees "deserve" a vote was because they knew that unless democrats all banded together for a filibuster, they couldn't defeat any nominations. and part of the reason they couldn't was because republicans had eliminated most of the other procedural tricks that had been used to shut down nominations from previous administrations.

the harriest miers nomination proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was nonsense. the same people who had begged for an up-or-down vote in previous battles were now demanding that miers withdraw. they didn't want her to get an up-or-down vote. they didn't want her to get the job. but they didn't want to have to publicly vote against her, which would be a public slap against the president, either.

this rank hypocrisy was pointed out by, among others, mark shields in sunday's washington post:

As John R. Tunis once wrote, "Losing is the great American sin." But Miers, who is undoubtedly a hurting victim in this whole melodrama and deserving of compassion and kindness, is not the loser. No, the losers are those mostly conservative posturers and pretenders who now stand exposed as political hypocrites.

Who said repeatedly some variation of "every judicial nominee and the American people and the president deserve a fair up-or-down vote?" If you answered virtually every Republican senator, especially Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Bill Frist of Tennessee, you would be more than right.

In addition to that "up-or-down vote," every judicial nominee, according to those same honorable folks, was entitled to a fair committee hearing. Every judicial nominee, it turns out, except Miers. She didn't even get the hearing, let alone "the fair up-or-down vote" she deserved.

well said. republican hypocrisy is nothing new, but it's nice to have such a bright, gleaming, and most importantly extremely recent example: rather than having to point to their actions during the clinton administration, we only need to point back to last week.

you might think that the miers scandal would permanently shatter the myth of the "up or down vote". but if you thought that, you would be underestimating the sheer depth and audacity of this hypocrisy. miers withdrew on thursday. alito was nominated on monday, just two business days later, and magically the up-or-down-myth had come back up, bringing with it the threat of the nuclear option once more. again from the washington post (it's wapo day):

But Alito found steadfast support after Bush announced his selection, with GOP senators saying he deserved a Senate confirmation vote and threatening to eliminate judicial filibusters if Democrats try to block the White House's newest high court nominee.

"If someone would filibuster ... I would be prepared to vote to change the rules," said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio.

DeWine is one of the 14 centrist senators that Democrats need to sustain a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. Without the group's seven Republicans, Democrats would not be able to prevent Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., from abolishing judicial filibusters and confirming judges with just the Senate's 55-member Republican majority.

Under existing Senate rules, it takes up to 60 votes to end a filibuster and force a final vote.

Frist said he's ready to move against judicial filibusters, using what Republicans call the "constitutional option," if Democrats force him to. "If a filibuster comes back, I'm not going to hesitate," he told "The Tony Snow Show" on Fox News.

Republicans, meanwhile, returned to their insistence that all judicial nominees deserve hearings and confirmation votes.

"I expect the Judiciary Committee to conduct a fair and dignified hearing in a timely manner, followed by an up or down vote by the Senate," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

well that was fast. the very next day after a column in the post exposed the rank hypocrisy of a gop talking point, a news story appears in the post where republicans start using that talking point again. how stupid do they think we are? do they think that we, like leonard in memento, have lost our short-term memory and will believe anything they tell us?

so in today's post, david broder has a column called "president pushover", where he reiterates the point shields had made only two days earlier:

But after Bush acquiesced in the conservative movement's uproar denying Miers her chance for an up-or-down Senate vote, or even a hearing in that committee, there is no plausible way the White House can insist that every major judicial nominee deserves such a vote.

That was the rationale behind the threatened "nuclear option" in the Senate, the mid-session rule change that would have banned judicial filibusters. If the mass of Democrats and a few Republicans who may be dismayed by Alito's stands on abortion and other issues can muster the 41 votes needed to sustain a filibuster under current rules, they now have precedent for using their power.

The conservative screamers who shot down Miers can argue that they were fighting only for a "qualified" nominee, though it is plain that many of them wanted more -- a guarantee that Miers would do their bidding and overrule Roe v. Wade . But whatever the rationale, the fact is that they short-circuited the confirmation process by raising hell with Bush. Certainly there can be no greater sin in a sizable bloc of sitting senators using long-standing Senate rules to stymie a nomination than a cabal of outsiders -- a lynching squad of right-wing journalists, self-sanctified religious and moral organizations, and other frustrated power-brokers -- rolling over the president they all ostensibly support.

nicely done. naturally, this won't stop the right from trying to use the "up-or-down" talking point, but by now it's pretty clear that none of them truly believe it. and as hunter points out, democratic senators don't even need to filibuster to shut down the senate, like they brilliantly did yesterday:

Democrats forced the Senate into a rare closed-door session yesterday, infuriating Republicans but extracting from them a promise to speed up an inquiry into the Bush administration's handling of intelligence about Iraq's weapons in the run-up to the war.

With no warning in the mid-afternoon, the Senate's top Democrat invoked the little-used Rule 21, which forced aides to turn off the chamber's cameras and close its massive doors after evicting all visitors, reporters and most staffers. Plans to bring in electronic-bug-sniffing dogs were dropped when it became clear that senators would trade barbs but discuss no classified information.

Republicans condemned the Democrats' maneuver, which marked the first time in more than 25 years that one party had insisted on a closed session without consulting the other party. But within two hours, Republicans appointed a bipartisan panel to report on the progress of a Senate intelligence committee report on prewar intelligence, which Democrats say has been delayed for nearly a year.

"Finally, after months and months and months of begging, cajoling, writing letters, we're finally going to be able to have phase two of the investigation regarding how the intelligence was used to lead us into the intractable war in Iraq," Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters, claiming a rare victory for Democrats in the GOP-controlled Congress.

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