Today’s Vote Shows the Political Cost of the ‘Nuclear Option’

by Charles C. W. Cooke

In its press release today, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights blames the filibuster for the defeat of President Obama’s DOJ nominee, Debo Adegbile:

WASHINGTON—Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released the statement below following the Senate filibuster of Debo Adegbile to be Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice:

“Today’s vote demonstrated the worst elements of our political system. Unhinged rhetoric trumped substance, racialized language triumphed over thoughtful discourse, and our legal and political system will pay the price.

Later, the group argues that “this filibuster shows a hypocritical double standard,” and charges that “today’s filibuster should concern every person who cares about our justice system.”

There’s only one problem with this: There wasn’t a filibuster. Adegbile went down by a clean 47-52. 

Why does this matter? Well, this particular case doesn’t, really. The Leadership Conference may have typed this up a long time ago and released it without change. Perhaps the press office wasn’t paying attention. Who knows?As a wider rule, though, Senate Democrats’ decision to reform the filibuster has deprived them of a useful PR tool. If this vote had been taken last year, all we would have heard today is that “extreme” or “obstructionist” Republicans had filibustered Obama’s nominee. Likewise, all of the vitriol that is being thrown at Adegbile’s critics would have been aimed at Republicans, while the seven Democrats who helped to kill the nomination would have been largely spared. The likely headline: ”Republicans Reject Controversial Obama Nominee.”

Not now. With a mere 50-vote threshold, ThinkProgress and its ilk have no choice but to run headlines such as “Meet The 7 Democrats Who Just Voted Down A Civil Rights Nominee For Supporting Civil Rights.” Meanwhile, irritated progressives are forced to focus in on the members of the Democratic party who are standing in the way of their aims. Last year, it didn’t really matter who voted with the GOP because the GOP could kill nominees on its own. Now, the recalcitrant members of the president’s own party will bear the brunt should they step out of line. Their cover is gone.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t going to change much. But it does reveal splits that were often covered up. (Note, for example, how Republicans were squarely blamed for the defeat of the Toomey-Manchin gun-control bill, even though four Democratic senators helped to kill it and four Republicans voted yes.) Around the edges, too, it demonstrates a weakness that no president or majority leader would ideally wish to acknowledge. Mitch McConnell is already twisting the knife, taunting Harry Reid for being unable to shepherd through the president’s nominees even after he has unilaterally reformed the rules to his advantage. Will it wildly change the atmosphere in November of this year? No. Still, it’s got to hurt.