Sen. Harry Reid

  • April 25, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Last year, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took to the Senate floor to bemoan his Republican colleagues’ ongoing use of the filibuster to block or greatly delay the president’s nominations to executive branch agencies, the federal bench, and to defeat consideration of legislation.

    Reid then praised some of the senators who have been pushing for filibuster reform, such as Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The plan, in part, would force senators to work harder to sustain a filibuster. Merkley calls it a “talking filibuster.” In a press release, Merkley explains how his proposed changes would blunt the use of the filibuster. (Sen. Merkley is one of the featured speakers at the 2013 ACS National Convention in June.)

    As it stands now Republicans have crafted a new norm of requiring a supermajority to end debate and allow up-or-down votes on legislation and nominations. The compromise gun bill was killed because of this new norm, though some wobbly pundits suggested the president was at fault. Indeed the late Bob Edgar blasted the use of the filibuster as essentially shutting the place down and his group lodged a lawsuit to force reform of the procedural tool.

    At the start of the 113th Congress, Merkley and other senators urged a simple majority vote to change the Senate’s rules on the filibuster. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), said “a revolution has occurred in the Senate in recent years. Never before was it accepted that a 60 vote threshold was required for everything. This did not occur through Constitutional Amendment or through a great public debate. Rather, because of the abuse of the filibuster, the minority party – the party the American people did not want to govern – has assumed for itself absolute and virtually unchecked veto power over all legislation, any executive branch nominee, no matter how insignificant the position, and over all judges, no matter how uncontroversial.” 

  • April 19, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Senators beholden to the NRA successfully blocked compromise legislation containing a few new measures to promote gun safety, providing, as many quickly noted, another example of the sorry mess Republicans have made of the Senate, albeit with the help of some powerful Democrats.

    Early this year, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushed serious filibuster reform aside to enter into a deal with Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) that was nonetheless trumpeted as an agreement that would curb the use of the filibuster, often requiring a supermajority to move nominations or legislation along.

    After the failed effort to pass modest measures on guns, Salon’s Alex Pareene took down some of the typical excuses for the Senate’s failure, and cut to the point: “The measure failed because of a bunch of asshole senators voted to filibuster it, and they were able to do so because Harry Reid made a deal with Mitch McConnell to preserve the filibuster a few months ago.”

    He concluded that the “mainstream political press” should start giving a more critical look at the “legitimacy of the 60-vote threshold ….”

    Today as authorities hunted for the second suspect of the Boston marathon bombings -- an immigrant of Chechen origin -- a few senators and right-wing pundits moved quickly to undermine consideration of immigration reform now before Congress.

    Elise Foley reporting for The Huffington Post noted that during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform, Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) quickly tied the bombings to immigration reform.

    “How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?” he said. “How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the U.S.? How do we ensure that people who wish to do us harm are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill before us?”

    Jillian Rayfield for Salon noted Grassley’s comments, but also provided a stream of Twitter comments from right-wing pundits, like Ann Coulter. Coulter tweeted early this morning: “It’s too bad Suspect # 1 won’t be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio, now,” referring to the comprehensive immigration bill introduced by eight senators, including Sen. Rubio (R-Fla.).

  • March 22, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Senate obstructionists cemented another victory in their assault on the judiciary when Caitlin Halligan withdrew her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

    The band of obstructionists led by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y) has succeeded in keeping President Obama from confirming a nominee to the 11-judge appeals court that has only 7 active judges. As the Boston Globe noted recently the D.C. circuit court has the “worst vacancy rate in its history and higher than any other federal circuit court nationwide."

    ACS President Caroline Fredrickson blasted the obstructionists for delaying or blocking up-or-down votes on uncontroversial, qualified nominees.

    “The D.C. Circuit is far too important to be held hostage by Senate obstructionists, who are leading an assault on the federal judiciary,” Fredrickson said. “The American people deserve better. Republican senators won’t even allow up-or-down votes on too many nominations now. Not only is this undermining the ability for courts to dispense justice, but it goes against the spirit of our constitutional requirement for advise and consent.”

    As former chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Patricia M. Wald wrote for The Washington Post, the Court “hears the most complex, time-consuming, labyrinthine disputes over regulations with the greatest impact on ordinary Americans’ lives: clean air and water regulations, nuclear plant safety, health-care reform issues, insider trading and more.”

    But McConnell and his team of obstructionists are not concerned about the harm being done to the judiciary or to the American people who should be able to rely upon a fully and effectively functioning federal bench. The obstructionists are instead focused on elections down the road, and keeping judicial vacancies open is part of their agenda. They want the federal bench to be packed with right-wing ideologues. Not even middle-of-the-road or moderate judges will do. Although Obama’s nominees have been a diverse lot, very few have been liberals.


  • February 27, 2013

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Two hundred and twenty three days is a long time to wait for a new job. Yet, that’s the average number of days that an Obama judicial nominee must wait from nomination to confirmation.

    While they’re waiting, they have to put their professional lives on hold, lest they inadvertently do anything that might stall their confirmation. And, that’s just the average nominee; many have waited much, much longer. Caitlin Halligan, one of President Obama’s nominees to the influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has been waiting nearly three years for her confirmation to go through a bitterly divided Senate. Some say that Halligan’s nomination is controversial because of her statements on the Second Amendment and detainee rights. But, even completely uncontroversial nominees who are rated as “highly qualified” by the American Bar Association, like Bill Kayatta, who was recently confirmed to sit on the First Circuit, have languished for months in the Senate. Robert Bacharach, who was recently confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, had his confirmation delayed in a filibuster aided by his home-state Senators.

    When judges have to wait to take their posts, ordinary people have to wait increasingly longer for routine legal matters to get resolved. Right now there are 88 vacancies in the federal judiciary, about a third of those are considered judicial emergencies – where the judges on a court have so many cases that they are forced to preform judicial triage. In those courts, resolving a civil case can take years because criminal matters take higher priority on the docket, and even those can be significantly delayed despite the constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial. In some districts, there are so many vacancies that a term like “ghost court” wouldn’t be far off the mark. Six judgeships in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia, are vacant, along with five judgeships in the District of Arizona. There are even federal courthouses that have literally been sitting empty for years because no one has even been nominated to fill those judgeships.

  • February 4, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Shortly after Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced so-called filibuster reform, TPM reported that the chamber’s chief ringleader of obstruction, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) “bragged” about killing the serious reforms that would have undermined obstructionists’ ability to so effectively wield the tool.

    In this post not long before the “filibuster reform,” was announced I noted that it appeared Reid was prepared to suffer even more obstructionism. (TPM had reported that Reid was ready to forgo a simple-majority vote to make real changes to the filibuster that would require senators to actually mount and sustain a filibuster, instead of relying on an easy and stealthy manner of deploying the filibuster.)

    Then late last week, as reported by TPM’s Brian Beutler, McConnell and 40 of his Republican colleagues promised try again to block the confirmation of Richard Cordray to permanently head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “unless Democrats agree to pass legislation dramatically weakening the agency.”

    President Obama overcame the first Republican blockade of his choice to the head the CFPB via a recess appointment that will leave him on the job until the end of the year. A recent, though widely attacked, opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, found that Obama’s recess appointment of Cordray and three nominees to fill vacant seats on the five-member National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional. The Obama administration has signaled it will appeal the opinion, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney calling it “novel and unprecedented.”