by Jeremy Leaming
There was an opening early in the 113th Congress to make life a bit tougher on the Senate’s band of obstructionists – through reform of the filibuster. But the obstructionists’ ringleader, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.), deftly avoided real reform by saying the Obama administration’s nominations to the lower federal district courts would be moved along more quickly.
But so-called reform has quickly proven rather lame. The president’s nominations to federal appeals courts as well as important executive branch positions remain in the cross-hairs of obstructionists who require a 60-vote majority before any action can be taken on those nominations or for that matter legislation.
On March 6 the Senate killed the president’s nomination of Caitlin Halligan for as seat on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. As Matt Vister noted earlier this week in an extensive piece for the Boston Globe the D.C. appeals court “has only seven out of 11 judges, the worst vacancy in its history and higher than any other federal circuit court nationwide. Obama has never been able to get a nominee on the court, symbolizing the Senate’s failure to approve nominations to dozens of courts nationwide.”
And the Senate’s obstructionists are again taking aim at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in part to prevent the shady practices employed by the financial industry, which helped usher in the Great Recession. Right-wing senators beholden to the nation’s superwealthy are demanding changes to the law that created the bureau or they will likely again filibuster Obama’s selection to head the bureau, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray. Cordray was appointed to head the bureau during a recess of Congress. But an opinion from the D.C. Circuit – the court Obama has been blocked from appointing any judges – ruled earlier this year that the president’s three recess appoints to a hobbled National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional. The Obama administration has appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Because Cordray’s appointment was made during a recess, it will expire and he’ll still need to be confirmed. But Republican obstructionists are threatening to block Cordray unless the financial reform law is weakened.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during a Senate Banking Committee yesterday blasted the obstructionism, saying, “I think that the delay in getting him confirmed is bad for consumers, it’s bad for small banks, it’s bad for credit unions, it’s bad for anyone trying to offer an honest product in an honest market. The American people deserve a Congress that worries less about helping big banks and more about helping regular people who have been cheated on mortgages, on credit cards, on student loans, on credit reports.” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff Gelles has more on Warren’s comments and a link to video of the hearing.)
Today TPM’s Brian Beutler reports that Obama during a meeting with Democrats this week “expressed his frustration with Republican slow-walking and filibustering of key nominees, and urged them to address the issue ….”
A White House official, according to Beutler, said President Obama made it clear that getting his nominees, especially judicial ones, confirmed was a major priority.
Some apologists for the obstructionists have argued that the president is partially to blame for the slow pace of judicial confirmations, saying that in his first term the he did not put forth enough judicial nominees in a timely manner.
At The Dish, Andrew Sullivan is having none of it, saying the “current GOP is an inherently revolutionary institution.” He notes that Jeffrey Toobin wrote recently that during his first term “Obama bore much of the blame” for lack of judicial confirmations, saying that the president had at that time a Senate with 60 Democrats and that he missed a window of opportunity to confirm judges.
But Sullivan says Toobin is advancing a “false equivalency ….” He continues, “No president should be required to rush all his judicial appointments in that recently rare window of controlling 60 votes in the Senate. He is not equally at fault here.”
Sullivan nails it. The Republican Party has demanded super-vote majorities for consideration of legislation and for too many judicial and executive branch nominations. In doing so, the Republican obstructionists are solely responsible for creating a crisis on the federal courts (there are more than 80 vacancies on the federal bench). The Republican obstructionists are bent on ignoring the electorate, voting on outlandish austerity policies aimed at protecting the interests of the superrich and shredding the nation’s already weak safety net.
The obstructionists have also waged an assault on the judiciary by keeping a Democratic president from bringing some much needed balance to the federal courts by blocking or seriously delaying consideration of his judicial selections. It’s an assault that was launched from the beginning of Obama’s first term and wholly divorced from the president’s pace of judicial selections.
[image via Gage Skidmore]