Opinion: Time for Democrats to stand up to Republican filibuster bullies

As a brazen political strategy to make Democrats’ 54-vote control of the Senate meaningless, the filibuster continues working to perfection for Senate Republicans. 

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There is no reason for them to stop because Democrats, despite their majority, are afraid to use their powers to fix the broken rule.

But just as spring brings cherry blossoms to D.C., Democrats in the leadership are now showing budding signs of being willing to fight the GOP’s corrupt use of filibusters.

At a forum hosted by the Wall Street Journal last Wednesday, Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees Senators to Trump: Let Mueller finish Russia probe Democrats fret over GOP changes to Mueller bill MORE (Ill.) for the first time spoke with deep regret about having failed to back filibuster reform in January at the start of the new Congress.

“I supported Harry’s (Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees Harry Reid: ‘The less we talk about impeachment, the better off we are’ Lobbying world MORE (D-Nev.) decision to try to work out a bipartisan agreement on the rules, because I think it’s in the best interests of the institution, but I can tell you the abuse that we’ve seen since then is not encouraging at all,” Durbin said. 

“I think we need to get back to regular order, and that means stopping the abuse of the filibuster.”

When pressed for specifics, Durbin answered the Senate may have to “change the rules.”

Durbin was reacting to a move by Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranRepublicans want Trump’s VA nominee to withdraw Trump VA pick allegedly gave 'large supply' of Percocet to military staff member Sessions defends census citizenship question as 'common sense' MORE (R-Kan.) to block a vote on the Senate’s Continuing Resolution — a temporary measure to fund the government through the end of this fiscal year and avoid a government shutdown. 

Moran demanded a vote on his amendment to prevent some upcoming sequestration budget cuts, in exchange for allowing the vote on the continuing resolution to go through.

Reid also spoke in anger about Moran’s move: “It is things like that that will cause the Senate to have to reassess all the rules because right now they accomplish so little.” 

Earlier this month, Reid showed the first sign of being willing to fight on filibusters. 

He openly voiced regret for not backing filibuster reform after the GOP’s silent filibuster of  one of President Obama’s judicial nominees, Caitlin Halligan. 

“On one hand, my Republican colleagues did not practice regular order. Instead they demanded a 60-vote threshold for confirmation of a qualified nominee, Caitlin Halligan, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit,” Reid said. 

“Republicans hid behind a cloture vote — a filibuster by another term — to prevent a simple up or down vote on this important nomination. They took the easy way out.”

Obama withdrew Halligan's nomination last Friday, citing the "unjustified filibuster."

But for all the sparks of fight and anger now coming from the Democrats, the GOP is planning more filibusters. 

The Republicans are in the planning stage of filibustering several members of the president’s new slate of nominees to head federal agencies.

The president’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyEPA chief upgraded official car to one with bulletproof seat covers Watchdog requests probe into relationship between top EPA aide and man investigating him GOP senators push back on calls to investigate Pruitt MORE, has already had a hold placed on her nomination by Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenators fume over fight to change rules for Trump's nominees GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees McCaskill outpaces GOP opponent by more than million MORE (R-Mo.)

Never mind that McCarthy served as an environmental policy adviser to Republican Mitt Romney when he was the Governor of Massachusetts. 

Never mind that the Senate Environment and Public Works committee had not even scheduled a date for McCarthy’s confirmation hearings yet where she could answer the Republican’s concerns.

The same playbook is being used against Obama’s nominee to be Secretary of Labor, Thomas PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE

Republican Sens. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterPlanned Parenthood targets judicial nominee over abortion comments Trump nominates wife of ex-Louisiana senator to be federal judge Where is due process in all the sexual harassment allegations? MORE (La.) and Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees Democrats fret over GOP changes to Mueller bill Let Robert Mueller do his job MORE (Iowa) have vowed to block Perez’s nomination.

In an interview with the National Review Online, Grassley, who is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary panel, laid down this marker: “At this point, I want to wait until I get answers to the questions, if I don’t get answers to the questions, I’ll work to block his nomination.” 

Keep in mind this Senate GOP caucus has already broken with hundreds of years of Senate precedent and filibustered the nomination of a Cabinet secretary, Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelShould Mike Pompeo be confirmed? Intel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security Hagel: Trump is 'an embarrassment' MORE for Secretary of Defense. 

They used the same filibuster weapon — with Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPompeo set to be confirmed on Thursday GOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision Overnight Defense: VA nominee on the ropes | White House signals it will fight for pick | Trump talks Syria with Macron | McConnell tees up Pompeo vote MORE (R-Ky.) leading the way — to injure and delay John Brennan’s nomination as CIA Director.

The GOP filibuster strategy is proving to be the tool of choice for draining momentum from President Obama’s reelection mandate. 

It stops the Democratic majority in the senate from controlling the Senate. And it makes it difficult for the president to put his nominees in place to govern the country.

The GOP is betting that voters will blame Democrats for the dysfunction in Congress as much as they blame the GOP.  

And so far, the bet is paying off, because the press is failing to call out the GOP for an extreme and nasty political strategy of demanding a super-majority of 60 votes —the votes required to break a filibuster — to get anything done.

There is, however, one thing that could end the GOP blockade and shake up the ossified politics of D.C. 

And that is filibuster reform.

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes 32 male senators back Senate women's calls to change harassment rules Duckworth brings her baby to Senate vote, drawing a crowd MORE (D-Ore.) and Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSchumer rips Trump over 'slap-dash' nominee vetting Dem senators demand Trump explain ties to Koch brothers Dem senators unveil expanded public option for health insurance MORE (D-N.M.) want to require senators to come to the floor to speak during a filibuster. 

No more silent filibusters based on threats.

To be sure, robust congressional oversight is an essential part of our democracy. 

But using oversight to justify twisting the filibuster rule into a weapon to obstruct a twice-elected president’s ability to govern undermines our democracy. 

How long will it take for Reid and Durbin to fix the problem?