Majority Leader Reid’s decision to exercise the so-called nuclear option — using a bare majority of Senators to rewrite rules and eliminate the filibuster for presidential nominations — may forever change how the Senate operates, transforming George Washington’s “cooling saucer” into another majoritarian up-or-down legislative body where the party in power rubber-stamps the agenda of their party’s leader in the White House.
Reid and his majority justify their actions by citing a series of fabricated statistics regarding the filibuster. Reid says Republicans have filibustered legislation or nominations more than 400 times. The truth? All but two of the president’s court nominees were confirmed. The Senate has confirmed no less than 215 lower-court judges.
And what about legislation? Reid incorrectly counts as a filibuster each time he himself has cut off debate (i.e. files cloture) after “filling the tree” and refusing to allow Republicans to exercise their right to offer amendments. These bills are not being blocked by the minority, but rammed through to passage by the majority. Simply put, Reid’s false statistics do not show how many times Republicans have filibustered, but instead reveal his own suppression of Senators’ rights. By filling the tree, every Senator must ask the Majority Leader’s permission to have a vote on their amendment. If Reid refuses to allow an open process, and files cloture to cut off amendment and debate, the only recourse the Minority has is to vote against ending debate. Thus, it is plain to any student of the Senate that the increase in cloture votes – what he calls a filibuster – is a direct product of his dictatorial actions.
Harry Reid didn’t invent this tactic, but he undoubtedly put it on steroids. Consider this: Since becoming Majority Leader in 2007, Reid has already deployed it 76 times. That’s nearly double the 40 uses by his six predecessors combined who served over a span of more than two decades.
We are witnessing a fundamental and potentially lasting alteration of the Senate. Each state is entitled to equal representation under the Constitution. But when Reid “fills the tree” and files cloture, he is blocking the duly-elected representatives of each state from having any say. Reid, in effect, is turning the Senate into Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives. He can introduce and pass laws without allowing any meaningful input from the minority party.
Have we entered a brave new world in which there are no rules, where a bare majority of Senators can change democratic procedure on a mere whim, and completely disregard any dissent? That is the Pandora’s box Mr. Reid has now flung wide open.
– Jeff Sessions is the junior United States Senator from Alabama.