Senate Republicans on Wednesday launched an around-the-clock talkathon over some Obama nominees in the wake of a new, Democratic-driven rules change last month that weakened the GOP’s ability to block nominations.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) threatened to hold the Senate in session throughout the night until the Senate dealt with all the Obama nominees. Though the Demcorats threw out constitutional precedent when they went nuclear, eliminating the filibuster on Obama nominees, Republicans retain the power to use up all procedural time, including post-cloture debate time on nominees.
If Republicans refuse to give up their allotted debate time, the Senate could be in session continuously into Saturday, and perhaps even longer.
“If we have to work through Christmas, we’re going to do that,” Reid said, echoing what has come to be one of his mantras each holiday season.
Once the Senate takes up the Obama nominees, no other business can be brought to the Senate floor until they are resolved, which includes the budget deal or the defense bill.
Harry Reid expected the Republicans to completely capitulate and go quietly into the night, making it seem as if it would be ridiculous to debate in the chamber once referred to as the “most deliberative body in the world.” Under Harry Reid and Democratic control, sadly that is no longer the case.
“The Republicans are wanting to waste more of this body’s time, this country’s time,” Reid said from the Senate floor as Senate aides carted in Listerine, fruit, chocolate and mints for what appeared to be a long night ahead. “We are here … looking at each other, doing basically nothing as we have done for vast amounts of time because of the Republicans’ obstructionism.”
For minority Republicans, the talkathon was less about the group of Obama nominees and more so a statement against Reid’s move to limit or remove filibusters for judicial nominees and appointments.
“The Senate was designed to protect absolutely minority rights,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said. “This isn’t about obstructionism. This is about `You limited our rights.”‘
Forcing the “tyranny of the majority,” in November the Democrats — in an unprecedented move — reduced the number of votes needed to end filibusters and procedural delays, from 60 to a simple majority for most nominations.
Because of that anti-constitutional power grab, Democrats forced through two top Obama nominees to Senate confirmation on Tuesday: a lawyer, Patricia Millett, who was placed to an unneeded vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC), to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
“All of us know what this is about,” said Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE). “This is about control of this body.”
Just after 1 a.m. EST Thursday, the Senate confirmed Pillard 51-44. Procedural and confirmation votes followed and will continue on the other Obama nominees, which will run into Saturday unless Republicans quit the talkathon. There would be more next week, slated to be the Senate’s final session for the year.
If Reid has his way, that won’t necessarily occur, he said.
“If we have to work the weekend before Christmas, we’re going to do that,” he said. “If we have to work Monday before Christmas, we’re going to do that.”
Angry Republicans were unmoved and ominously implied they would continue to use Senate rules to slow action on nominations into the midterm election year.
“Assuming we take the Senate in 2014, I think it will end in January 2015,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said of Republicans’ delays.
Until this week, there were four judges on the D.C. Circuit appointed by Democratic presidents, four appointed by Republicans and three vacancies.
The court is a significant vehicle for moving the country to the left, because it rules on White House and other federal agency-imposed regulations, which should otherwise be deliberated upon in the Congress. The president, Reid, and the Democrats are using the nuclear option to pay back political favors and ram through new laws, an effort to regulate in place of legislate.
Senate approval of Millett — and, soon, Pillard and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins to fill the open seats — will be a major victory for Obama because it will tilt that panel of judges heavily in his direction.
Democrats also want to confirm Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve and Jeh Johnson to lead the Homeland Security Department by the end of next week.