sen. Tom Udall

  • January 24, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The momentum for serious reform to the filibuster picked up steam last year after Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) expressed great frustration over Republicans abuse of the legislative tool. Reid had faced nearly 400 filibusters since leading the Senate and admitted he was slow to embrace filibuster reform. Reid claimed he was finally ready to support serious reform proposals championed by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

    But it now appears Reid is ready to suffer ongoing Republican obstructionism in the Senate. TPM’s Sahil Kapur reports that Reid is nearing a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) “to enact minor changes to the filibuster.”

    The deal, Kapur reports would make “very modest changes,” such as permitting the “majority to bypass a filibuster on the motion to proceed to debate – if a group of senators on each side agree or if there’s a guarantee that both sides will bet to offer amendments ….”

    According to Kapur, however, the only “meaningful upside” of the agreement centers on nominations – apparently part of the deal would include “an expedited process for some nominations ….”

    The filibuster has been used to scuttle dozens of judicial nominations, which have helped lead to a high vacancy rate on the federal bench. The filibuster, however, has also been used to shut down consideration of an array of progressive measures, such as ones addressing pay inequity, immigration reform and climate change.

    In a Jan. 21 editorial, The New York Times raised concerns that on the cusp “an opportunity to end much of this delay and abuse, Democrats are instead considering only a few half-measures.” The Times highlighted reform proposals advanced by Merkley and Udall, which would require senators to take action to mount and sustain a filibuster. It would require senators bent on slowing consideration of legislation or nominations to actually announce their reason for doing so, and then continue explaining those reasons. As the newspaper noted the proposal would kill the “current practice of routinely requiring a 60-vote majority for a bill through a silent objection ….”

  • January 15, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As Salon’s Steve Kornacki persuasively argues, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is a friend of the National Rifle Association, likely helping to kill any meaningful gun control legislation.

    Kornacki notes that Reid recently told Nevada reporters that he is not supporting any of the reforms expected to be put forth by the administration (The New York Times reports that Vice President Joe Biden has identified 19 executive orders the president could issue to advance gun safety) and essentially “pronounced the assault weapons ban dead ….”

    Kornacki continues:

    Not only is there steep resistance in the Republican-controlled House, but the Senate also includes a number of Democrats like Reid from pro-gun states who would rather not go on record voting for a new ban.

    In stating that he won’t consider legislation that doesn’t stand a chance in the House, Reid appears to be giving pro-gun Senate Democrats an opportunity to duck the question.

    Beyond providing cover to “pro-gun Senate Democrats,” Reid now appears to be wavering on filibuster reform. Last year, Reid took to the Senate floor to bemoan his lack of support for filibuster reform and said he favored reform measures advocated by several Democratic senators.

  • December 13, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    With Republicans seemingly hell-bent on tossing the country over the so-called fiscal cliff, showing no signs of agreeing to tax hikes on the nation’s superrich, and continuing their strategy of obstructionism polling shows that a majority of Americans support filibuster reform.

    Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) embraced obstructionism during President Obama’s first term, saying his party’s top priority was to ensure Obama did not serve a second one. McConnell, however, is still set on obstructionism and not surprisingly arguing that the Constitution forbids the Senate from altering its procedures by majority vote.

    A bipartisan group of law professors – including former Reagan solicitor general Charles Fried and a former conservative federal judge Michael W. McConnell – in a Dec. 12 letter to senators says McConnell is wrong. (The letter can be read here – thanks to the Brennan Center For Justice).

    “When a newly-elected Congress convenes,” the letter states, “the newly-constituted Senate, like the newly-elected House, can invoke its constitutional rulemaking authority to make changes to the Standing Rules. At that time, a majority of the new Senate can choose to reject or amend an existing rule.”

  • December 6, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    So the Senate is making some progress on confirming judges, but that progress should not mask the reality of a politicized process that has created a high vacancy rate on the federal bench. The 113th Congress has plenty of work on its plate, and it should include fixing the judicial nominations process that has hobbled the judicial system.

    Though the Senate confirmed two district court judges today – Mark Walker and Terrance Berg – both were approved months ago by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Republican senators have throughout Obama’s first term greatly slowed the confirmation process, even for district court judges. This year, many Republicans claimed that during a presidential election year fewer judges should be confirmed, so the backlog of judges to be confirmed continued to swell, with more than 80 vacancies on the federal bench. Some Republican senators are now claiming that it is very rare for judicial nominations to be considered during lame-duck sessions of Congress. Sen. Chuck Grassley, as noted here recently, lauded his colleagues for allowing floor votes this week on a few of the pending judges.

    But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) blasted Republicans for making the wobbly claim that judicial nominations should not be considered during lame-duck sessions. “I urge them to reexamine the false premises for their contentions and I urge the Senate Republican leadership to reassess its damaging tactics,” the senator said in a Dec. 6 statement. “The new precedent they are creating is bad for the Senate, the federal courts, and most importantly, for the American people.”

  • December 3, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Senate may soon vote on one of the 19 judicial nominations that were left pending before members recessed in August for electioneering. Even if it does take a bit of time to confirm a judicial nominee, the Senate still has a long way to go to fill a large number of vacanices on the federal bench, which were caused primarily by Senate Republicans' obstructionism.

    Some continue to write that the Obama administration has failed to put forth enough nominations for the federal bench. But that’s merely reciting a right-wing or Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) talking point. It doesn’t add much anymore to the conversation. The Brookings Institution's Russell Wheeler noted earlier this year in a progress report on judicial nominations that while Obama, at that point in his presidency had made fewer district court nominations than Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, he had also made more circuit court nominations.

    The only point that matters is that the federal bench has a high number of vacancies – more than 80, and many of them are judicial emergencies – not because of the number of nominations made, but the number of nominations stalled. Moreover, as an unnamed White House aide told The Huffington Post, it doesn’t make a difference as to when the nominations are made, as long as the Senate continues to obstruct. (Yes, The Post piece cited also includes the lame line about Obama not nominating enough folks for the federal bench.)

    The 19 pending nominees have already been run through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and are ready for an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. Regardless of the battle to reach a budget deal to avoid a so-called fiscal cliff, consideration of these nominees would not take much floor time if the Senate were properly functioning.

    “There is no justification for holding up final Senate action on the 19 judicial nominations that have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and are pending on the Senate Executive Calendar,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in a Nov. 30 statement. “President Obama has consistently reached across the aisle, consulted with home state senators from both parties and appointed moderate, well-qualified judicial nominees. It is time for the obstruction to end and for the Senate to complete action on these nominees so that they may serve the American people with further delay. Delay for delay’s sake is wrong and should end.”