Terry Eastland noted three weeks ago in these pages (“After the Filibuster,” February 24) that “President Obama and Senate Democrats have gone to great lengths to secure the appointment of executive-branch officers and judges and thus help advance his policies and programs.” A key move was Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s uprooting of that age-old Senate tradition, the filibuster. No longer could the president’s nominees be held up by a determined minority in possession of a mere 41 votes. Instead of a supermajority of 60, a bare majority of 51 senators would henceforth be able to cut short debate (cloture) and move to a vote. Eastland took care to note that Reid’s procedural steamroller was not entirely bad news for opponents of the president:
The new threshold doesn’t guarantee confirmation, and some Republicans think it will work in some cases in their favor. Thus, where under the old supermajority rule red-state Democratic senators (seven are up for reelection this year) were able to hide, in effect, behind cloture votes on left-wing nominees, now they will be on the record with up-or-down votes and thus at risk of upsetting more conservative constituents or damaging relationships with their colleagues and the president.
It took less than a month for this observation to be revealed as prophetic. Legal writer Ed Whelan, in his National Review Online column, provides a succinct summary. On March 6,
seven Democratic senators joined Republicans to deliver a smashing defeat to President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to be Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. . . . One welcome consequence of the abolition of the supermajority cloture rule is to make Senate Democrats accountable for their votes. If . . . the supermajority cloture rule were still in effect, the seven Democrats who oppose Adegbile would probably have been inclined to stand aside and let Republicans take the heat for blocking the nomination. . . . It’s a great lose-lose for Democrats. The Adegbile nomination is defeated, and red-state and purple-state Democrats who voted for him and who are up for re-election this November may pay heavily for doing so. That list includes Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Udall of Colorado, and Mark Begich of Alaska.
Helluva job, Harry Reid!