Politics & Policy

Tom Daschle: Democrats Bear Most of the Blame for the Filibuster Mayhem

Dashcle at a Center for American Progress conference in 2014 (Reuters photo: Gary Cameron)
The former Senate majority leader admit that Democrats have ‘far dirtier hands.’

Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice today, but it has come at a cost. The ability to filibuster a future such nomination died last week as the GOP Senate triggered the “nuclear option” and ended the practice. Democrats are crying foul over a “stolen” Supreme Court seat: Their tried to filibuster Gorsuch as payback for the Republican refusal to advance the nomination of Obama appointee Merrick Garland last year.

But that’s not quite the way Tom Daschle sees it. He was the Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2003. This weekend, Daschle admitted in a podcast with RealClearPolitics’ Carl Cannon that Democrats are more to blame than Republicans are for the destruction of “institutional pillars” in the Senate. He said that he finds the “situational ethics” surrounding Senate confirmations to be deeply troubling and destructive of the institution. Daschle appeared to chastise fellow Democrat Chuck Schumer, the current Democratic minority leader, for blaming only Republicans for the Senate’s hyper-partisanship.

“Today is just amazing — the symmetry that exists between those who believe that it’s wrong today but to believe in doing it before,” Daschle told Cannon. “What I would fear the most is a lack of respect and appreciation of the institution itself.”

Daschle wasn’t done. He went on to say:

Unfortunately, Democrats have far dirtier hands when it comes to the erosion of the institutional pillars of the Senate than Republicans going all the way back. . . . The whole budget process was a Democratic product, and that was in my view a procedural disaster. Then we lowered the threshold from 67 to 60. That was a Democratic effort. And then in 2013, we took it away completely for nominations, and that was Democratic. So, Democrats who may lament this institutional deterioration, I think there’s a lot of history here that can’t be explained away.

When he mentions the deterioration of the budget process, he appears to be criticizing Harry Reid, who as Senate majority leader under President Obama declined to ever pass a real federal budget. Instead, Reid chose to run the government by “continuing resolutions.”

Of course, Daschle doesn’t have completely clean hands in all this. In 2003, when Daschle was the minority leader, Democrats mounted filibusters of several George W. Bush judicial nominations. Before then, no purely partisan filibusters of a potential judge had ever been mounted (the filibuster against LBJ appointee Abe Fortas in 1968 was bipartisan). Chief among the 2003 filibusters was the one against GOP lawyer Miguel Estrada for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Estrada, a Honduran immigrant, was opposed by Democrats, who admitted in a leaked memo that they feared Estrada would become the court’s first Hispanic judge appointed by Bush.

After two years of delays, Estrada finally withdrew his nomination in disgust with the process. He remains a little bitter, telling the National Law Journal in March, “I would never accept a job that requires Senate confirmation or, for that matter, willingly place myself in any situation (e.g., a hearing room) in which convention requires that I be civil to Chuck Schumer.”

While he has conveniently forgotten his own role in the destruction of the filibuster against Supreme Court nominees, it is refreshing to see someone with the stature of Senator Daschle call out his own party for having the larger share of hypocrisy when it comes to the Senate’s dysfunction.

Nor is that dysfunction limited to confirmation votes. Daschle says he is an old-fashioned critic of legislative “majoritarianism,” by which parliaments in Europe override the minority and ram through laws with little consultation. “I believe in protecting the rights of the minority,” he told Cannon. “I also hold out hope for bipartisan agreement.” But he lamented that he isn’t likely to see much of that soon. He noted that there used to be two tables in the Senate dining room reserved for bipartisan groups of senators to eat and get to know one another. A little while ago, they were removed from the room because no one was using them.

— John Fund is NRO’s national-affairs correspondent.

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