For the Left, a Dream Come True

by Andrew Stiles

The Left is swooning over Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s (D., Nev.) shocking, and profoundly hypocritical decision to nuke the filibuster for judicial nominations and cabinet appointments. After all, weakening the filibuster was one of the top priorities outlined by a coalition of prominent liberal groups that met in secret just after the 2012 election in order to craft an agenda for Obama’s second term:

The most pressing issue right now for Democracy Initiative members is Senate rules reform. At the December meeting, attendees heard from Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) on rule changes to curb the spiraling use of filibusters to block legislation. The use of the filibuster has exploded in recent years, and Republicans now block up-or-down votes on nearly everything in the Senate, requiring Democrats to muster 60 votes to conduct even the most routine business. Liberal groups in the Democracy Initiative want to fix that, and they used the December meeting to plan a coordinated push to urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to rewrite the rules…

Freshman Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) were some of the most vocal proponents of filibuster reform. They are among the most liberal members in the upper chamber, and they obviously have no inkling of what it’s like to be in the minority party, as many of their colleagues do.  

In fact, the filibuster has been a primary target of the Left ever since Obama took office in 2009, as Dave Weigel reports:

“The progressive media started pounding on Reid very early in the process—I’m talking post-2008—to engage or to execute the so-called nuclear option,” remembers Reid’s then chief of staff Jim Manley. “I’d be getting phone calls from the Huffington Post once in a while about it. We did roundtables with progressive media where it was raised. Sen. Reid held regular meetings with the freshmen to get their input and ideas on Senate matters, and this was always at the top of their agenda.”

Of course, Reid did not go so far as to eliminate the filibuster altogether — it remains in effect for legislation and Supreme Court nominations — but Jonathan Chait spells out why, for liberals, the partial rules change is worth celebrating:

The main reason for this odd, partial clawback of the filibuster is that President Obama has no real legislative agenda that can pass Congress. At the beginning of the year, it seemed plausible that House Republicans might go along with immigration reform, but even that possibility now looks remote. Nothing can pass.

That reality means two things. The first is that President Obama’s second-term agenda runs not through Congress but through his own administrative agencies. His appointees are writing rules for financial reform, housing policy and — the potentially enormous one — climate emissions. Senate Republicans have tried to stymie this agenda by blocking executive-branch appointments, most recently filibustering the nomination of Mel Watt to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The executive-branch filibuster has become a primary Republican weapon against Obama’s agenda.

Their next line of defense is the D.C. Circuit, the federal court that handles regulatory cases. If and when the Environmental Protection Agency issues regulations on existing power plants, the D.C. Circuit will rule on their legality. Republicans had announced their intention to block any Obama appointment at all to the court’s three vacant positions in order to protect their party’s functional majority. (The court is currently split evenly, but it sends its overflow caseload to retired judges, who are mostly Republican.) The D.C. Circuit is where Republicans had hoped to block those parts of Obama’s executive agenda they couldn’t gum up by denying the agencies a functioning director.