Bench Memos

AAG Nominee Debo Adegbile’s Defeat—Part 2

Some additional observations on yesterday’s Senate vote of 52 to 47 against President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to be Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Civil Rights Division:

1. As a technical matter, the vote was on the motion to invoke cloture on the Adegbile nomination, not on confirmation itself. But because Senate Democrats recently abolished the 60-vote supermajority requirement for cloture on nominees, only a simple majority of senators voting was needed to invoke cloture. In other words, the vote on the cloture motion was clearly a proxy for the vote on confirmation. So the fact that seven Democrats voted against Adegbile on substantive grounds ought to mean that the nomination is dead.

(One trivial note: Senate majority leader Harry Reid changed his vote to no for purely procedural reasons, so there are really 48 senators who support Adegbile. The one senator who didn’t vote, John Cornyn, may be safely counted as a 52nd vote against.)

2. A further reason to expect the Adegbile nomination to be dead is that the vote generated ill will, and exposed divisions, among Democrats. As this Washington Post article reports:

A senior aide to one of the senators who voted against the nominee said several senators’ offices were “very angry” at the White House for moving ahead with the nomination even though it could leave Democrats who are facing tough reelection races vulnerable to attack ads.

“It’s a vote you didn’t have to take. It’s a 30-second ad that writes itself,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak frankly.

I don’t see how further arm-twisting on the nomination could lead any senators who opposed it yesterday to change their minds, and I don’t see how Democrats have anything to gain by prolonging the process.

3. One welcome consequence of the abolition of the supermajority cloture rule is to make Senate Democrats accountable for their votes. If (as Charlie Cooke suggests in a Corner post yesterday) the supermajority cloture rule were still in effect, the seven Democrats who oppose Adegbile would probably have been inclined to stand aside and let Republicans take the heat for blocking the nomination.

4. It’s remarkable that Reid scheduled the vote without knowing that he would win it. It’s a great lose-lose for Democrats. The Adegbile nomination is defeated, and red-state and purple-state Democrats who voted for him and who are up for re-election this November may pay heavily for doing so. That list includes Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Udall of Colorado, and Mark Begich of Alaska.

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