Continually frustrated by Senate Democrats filibustering President Bush's judicial nominees, the Republicans threatened to invoke the "nuclear option", which entailed changing the rules to allow a simple majority of the 100 Senators (51, as opposed to a 60-vote threshold) to end filibustering of a nominee. The idea was to emphasize the spirit in which the filibuster was created, which was to allow debate on legislative issues and not to interfere with the constitutional grant of power to the president to name judges with the advice and consent of the Senate.
In light of then Majority Leader Bill Frist threatening to invoke the so-called "nuclear option", some high profile Democrat senators strenuously objected.
“My Republican colleagues claim that nominees are entitled to an up-down vote. That claim ignores history, including recent history.” (Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid - April 26, 2005).
"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'S NOTHING MORE OR NOTHING LESS." (Sen. Joseph R. Biden - May 23, 2005)
"I KNOW IT WON'T SURPRISE MANY OF YOU TO LEARN THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE DON'T THINK MUCH GETS DONE AROUND HERE ABOUT THE ISSUES THEY CARE ABOUT MOST. THEY THINK THE ATMOSPHERE HAS BECOME TOO PARTISAN, THE ARGUMENTS HAVE BECOME TOO NASTY AND THE POLITICAL AGENDAS HAVE BECOME TOO PETTY. WHILE I HAVEN'T BEEN HERE TOO LONG, I'VE NOTICED THAT PARTISAN DEBATE IS SHARP AND DISSENT IS NOT WELL-RECEIVED. HONEST DIFFERENCES OF OPINION AND PRINCIPLED COMPROMISE OFTEN SEEM THE VICTIM OF THE DETERMINATION TO SCORE POINTS AGAINST ONE'S OPPONENTS." (Sen. Barack H. Obama - April 13, 2005)
In the end, the GOP did not invoke the "nuclear option", instead opting for the compromise reached by the "Gang of 14", which was made up of seven "centrist" Democrats and seven "centrist" Republicans. Ed Morrissey, via his previous blog Captain's Quarters, broke down the terms of the agreement here.
I recall many GOP supporters being incensed over this "compromise", indicating that the Republicans had a golden opportunity to use their majority to appoint high quality people to the federal judiciary. In fact, my Northern Alliance Radio Network colleague Mitch Berg wrote one of the all time great rant-filled blog posts in response to the "compromise." Check it out here.
Fast forward 8-1/2 years to yesterday. Apparently Senate Majority Leader Reid, Vice President Biden and President Obama have overcome their strenuous objections to power grabs, partisan atmospheres and ignoring history.
The Senate approved the most fundamental alteration of its rules in more than a generation on Thursday, ending the minority party’s ability to filibuster most presidential nominees in response to the partisan gridlock that has plagued Congress for much of the Obama administration.
Furious Republicans accused Democrats of a power grab, warning them that they would deeply regret their action if they lost control of the Senate next year and the White House in years to come. Invoking the Founding Fathers and the meaning of the Constitution, Republicans said Democrats were trampling the minority rights the framers intended to protect. But when the vote was called, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader who was initially reluctant to force the issue, prevailed 52 to 48.
Under the change, the Senate will be able to cut off debate on executive and judicial branch nominees with a simple majority rather than rounding up a supermajority of 60 votes. The new precedent established by the Senate on Thursday does not apply to Supreme Court nominations or legislation itself.
I reiterate my earlier contention that the filibuster was in place to allow the minority party an opportunity to debate legislation. As Republicans, we pointed this out incessantly when the Dems obstructed President George W. Bush's executive and judicial branch nominees.
What the Democrats did Thursday was merely use the power they obtained via the electorate. Had the GOP done the same 8+ years ago, the desired nominees of the Bush administration would have been appointed in spite of the seemingly bad P.R. it would have wrought. As such, I surmise that the Republicans back then were so scared to death of losing the power they had obtained just six months earlier that they were afraid to use it. As it turned out, the Democrats gained control of both the House and Senate the next election cycle anyways, effectively neutering President Bush. In retrospect the GOP Senate might as well have gone ahead and invoked the "nuclear option" if they were going to lose their Congressional majority regardless.
What's most frustrating to me is this is a perpetual lesson that the Republicans never seem to learn. That is, making deals with Democrats and expecting them to always abide by the terms of the compromises. That always comes back to bite the GOP. In 2005, Reid lauded the compromise as a "significant victory for our country" while probably laughing hysterically on the inside, given that he pulled off one of the great heists in Senate history. And because he is a Democrat, Reid can rely on a complicit media to not take him to task for his monumental pivot from his 2005 mindset to now.
In the end, this appears to be nothing more than a desperation move for the Dems. Since they are getting no cover from the White House for the Obamacare debacle, there's a fair chance they could lose their majority in the Senate come next election. Why not seize the opportunity now to ram through any judicial nominees who are deemed controversial? Unlike their Republican colleagues, the Dems aren't afraid to shamelessly utilize whatever power they possess.