April 6, 2017 (WASHINGTON) the U.S. Senate voted to invoke the nuclear option in the tussle over Judge Neil Gorsuch. He will be the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court replacing Antonin Scalia. Democrats had enough votes to block the nomination under the old rules, which required 60 votes to achieve cloture, meaning the end of discussion.
This tactic was used successfully to block judges for lower courts nominated by President Barack Obama by Republicans when they were in the minority. This is why Harry Reid, as Majority Leader, invoked the so-called nuclear option in 2013 for all judicial appointments, except the United States Supreme Court. It broke those tactics, and then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell complained bitterly that it was a break with tradition and the weakening of minority rights.
It was both, however, now that Republicans have the majority they have taken that final step with Supreme Court nominations. This is after blocking the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland over the course of last year. It was not that Garland was unqualified. It was that he was nominated by a Democratic president.
It is time to look at this in a dispassionate manner. What is happening in the Senate is that the hyper-partisanship that is the stock and barrel of the House is now infecting the Senate. Over the last 20 years, we have seen an increase in dysfunction in Congress. Until 2010 or so, the Senate used to be more congenial than the House. That election, and the vow from now majority leader Mitch McConnell to make then President Barack Obama a one term president led to a series of decisions that made the Senate a far more partisan site. The chamber was already on the way to becoming more partisan and less congenial, but 2010 seems to be a break for the Senate. The House started much earlier.
So what are the factors behind this:
First let’s disabuse ourselves of the notion that one party is doing this, and the other is just a victim. Partisans on both sides run around with this idea. However, when one looks at Congress one quickly realizes that both parties, to greater or lesser extent, are not able to work with the other side. They have not been able to do such since the 1980s. While one person does get the blame for starting this, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, it takes more than one to tango.
Nor are democrats above the fray. Leader Reid did involve the nuclear option in 2013, for reasons that are similar to why McConnel did this morning. Simply put, the minority was using the systems in place to block the other side’s agenda. Partisans on each side applauded this action as great and forgot that sooner or later the other side would hold the majority.
The danger in what both parties are doing is that soon this will spread to legislative action. This will make the Senate just as hyper-partisan as the House, which means that the majority, regardless of who is in the majority, will pass laws to advance their ideological goals. The good of the country be damned in this case.
We have yet to hit bottom, and the spirit of revenge is fast replacing what is good for the country.