WASHINGTON – Republican resentment over the Democrats’ decision to change Senate rules and eliminate filibusters on nominations has led to a form of trench warfare in the already deliberative body, producing long hours and hard feelings as the Senate finishes the first week of life with its new rules in place.
Democrats, after an all-night session that continued uninterrupted Thursday, said the marathon schedule was a small price to pay.
Two new judges are now set to join the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, giving Democratic appointees a majority on the court. President Obama can enact long-sought changes in housing policy with the confirmation of Melvin Watt as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Other key sub-Cabinet vacancies are on track to be filled between now and Christmas, although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has warned that lawmakers may have to work right up until the holiday.
Asked whether Republican delaying tactics had produced even a hint of regret, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., one of the leaders of the anti-filibuster effort, scoffed.
“Have you been paying attention the last five years? This place had been paralyzed,” the first-term lawmaker said. “Now you’re seeing that we’re actually getting some things done.”
But they’re getting done slowly.
Democrats can advance nominees by a simple majority vote, but Republicans are using all the mechanisms they can to deliver retribution, delaying votes for hours and objecting to the typically pro forma procedural steps that allow the Senate to function.
The Senate’s rules still can require an initial procedural vote before a final confirmation vote. When that procedural hurdle is overcome, the rules require up to 30 hours of debate before a final vote. As a courtesy, both parties often come to informal agreements to waive some or all of that time. Republicans now are in no mood for such courtesies.
So, starting Wednesday night, Reid held the chamber open so he could call votes immediately when the time for debate expired on each of a long list of pending nominations. Lawmakers face what for them amounts to a hardship: a Friday session and possibly another Saturday.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said it was “perfectly reasonable” for Republicans to insist on using all the time allotted for debate. Rather than discuss the merits of the nominees, Republicans have spent their time attacking the president’s health care law or criticizing the rule changes.
“It’s an attempt to shut out the American people from the political process,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in a speech at 3 a.m. Thursday. “President Obama and the majority party in the Senate are so dedicated to enacting their progressive agenda, they’ll do anything, even if it means running roughshod over the minority.”