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Ask Auntie Pinko

May 26, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I'm confused. Did the Democrats win anything in the deal that was cut to keep Senate Republicans from using the "nuclear option?" It looks to me as though there will still be three very badly qualified individuals confirmed as Federal judges, now. And since the Democrats promised not to use the filibuster on other nominees in the future, what can they do to stop a really unpalatable nomination to the Supreme Court? If they filibuster, the Republicans can go ahead and invoke the "nuclear option" again, claiming that Democrats broke their end of the deal!

Wouldn't we have been better off to just let the Republicans invoke the "nuclear option," and have all the Democrats walk out and refuse to cooperate with the raping of the checks and balances system?

Lorne T.
Ogden, UT

Dear Lorne,

The only argument Auntie Pinko can see for making this deal, would be the fear on the part of some Democrats that the Republican leadership could change the rules to eliminate the filibuster, and that the American people would not care. In such a case, the Democrats then "walking out" or otherwise bringing the proceedings of the Senate to a halt would be regarded as petulant obstructionism and reflect badly on the Party.

I fear that there is some justification for this point of view. There has been very little indication that large numbers of ordinary Americans with no particular passion for either party attend very closely to procedural infighting. Whether this is because the connection between technical rules in the Senate, and their own interests, is unclear, or because they don't think that the rule changes will have much of a real effect, I do not know.

In any case, the possibility that large numbers of American voters would see a decisive Democratic response to Republican action in killing the filibuster as "bad behavior" by the Democrats has clearly frightened enough Democratic Senators to make them feel that procrastination is the best course. In return, they get to ignore (for now) the two least-acceptable nominees. The price being the confirmation of three other unacceptable nominees based on a vote. If the Democrats can be resolute in party line opposition to these three nominees, they will at least make some kind of statement to the American people.

And as you point out, Lorne, the future price may include a difficult choice between even more unacceptable nominations, or reviving the entire fight and rehashing everything that has been done so far. There has been, so far as I am aware, no agreement by the Republican Senators to refuse to consider the two nominations covered under the agreement if the President is determined to submit them again. Nor is there any concession regarding future unacceptable nominations.

Weighing all of these factors together, Lorne, while I do not wish to condemn the Senators who brokered the deal (after all, compromise is a valuable tool, and it is encouraging to see that it can still be deployed in such a contentious atmosphere), I wish that they had stood firm with the Party's leadership, and let events take their course. I have confidence that in the long run, the Republicans' actions would have reflected more poorly on them. And the filibuster rule could have been re-instated as soon as the Democrats regained control of the Senate.

On the other hand, do you think it would be reinstated if the Democrats regained control of the Senate?

Auntie has her doubts. And we need the filibuster rule in the long term, even if an agreement keeps it from being used in the short term. There seems to be no good answer here, Lorne, but thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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