GOP goes 'nuclear' and permanently damages Senate, Supreme Court
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Republicans went “nuclear” today by changing the procedures of the Senate in order to confirm Neil Gorsuch by a mere simple majority of senators instead of adhering to a 60-vote threshold needed to invoke cloture.  While they will try to spin this draconian move as one they were forced to make, make no mistake about this: Republicans only have themselves to blame and will be the sole owners of this sad legacy.  

Are Democrats’ hands clean on the history of the Senate that led us to this moment?   Of course not.  Both sides are to blame, but the blame should not be distributed evenly.  

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Democrats bear responsibility for a 2013 change in Senate procedures in order to confirm federal appellate judges and cabinet nominees under President Obama.

 

But history here is important and relevant.  Democrats knew they were taking a huge chance in changing the rules back in 2013, and many of them regret the move. However, they did not touch Supreme Court nominees for a reason. They knew it would be a point of no return and they did not want to be responsible for that.  

So why did Democrats change the rules back in 2013?

President Obama endured historic obstruction of his court nominations, more than all other presidents who came before him combined.  Presidents prior to President Obama saw cloture filed on their nominees only 68 times — meaning that is how many filibusters the opposing party put in their path.  

Under President Obama’s first term and through 2013, Republicans refused to agree to votes on his nominees, forcing the Senate Democratic Leader to file cloture on 79 of his nominations. 

As a result, the wait time for President Obama‘s first-term circuit and district court nominees from nomination to confirmation was more than half a year, a record median wait time as compared to nominees under any other President.   

If Democrats wanted to fill important vacancies on the nation’s critical appellate courts, changing the rules was going to be their only option.  

Fast forward to March of 2016 President Obama — having almost a year left on his last term — nominated a fair-minded, consensus nominee in Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy Justice Scalia left after his death in February.

In fact, it was a Republican idea that President Obama nominate someone as moderate and universally supported and praised in a bi-partisan fashion as Merrick Garland.  

And what did Republicans do?  They embarked on perhaps the rudest, most insolent, slap-in-the-face, 10 month long dissing of a federal judge in the nation’s history.  

Democrats have called it the never-ending Republican filibuster of Judge Garland.  But a filibuster would entail that the nominee actually got to meet with senators, and have a hearing and a Q&A session.    

But Judge Garland was not even given the time of day by the Republican senate.

Unlike Merrick Garland, Neil Gorsuch is not a moderate, consensus candidate.  Many believe he is even more extreme than right wing hero Justice Scalia, whose place Gorsuch would be taking.  

In fact, according to a Washington Post analysis, he would be the most conservative judge, even more so than Justice Clarence Thomas.  And a New York Times analysis dubbed him as the second most conservative judge were he to make it to the bench.   

Republicans argue that having Gorsuch on the bench would not have changed the ideological balance of the bench because Gorsuch is just as conservative as Scalia was.  

But even a cursory review of his record shows just how extreme Gorsuch has been, repeatedly siding with corporate special interests, employers who discriminated against employees, and even a school system that denied equal educational opportunities to autistic children.  

And contrary to Republican talking points, Democrats came into this process with open minds. Wanting to have a solid reason to vote for him, they gave Gorsuch a fair shot at painting himself as a moderate who made decisions based on the law and not seemingly on who would benefit from the outcome.  

But time and time again, Gorsuch evaded, ignored, and side-stepped every question until Democrats shifted their thinking based on his rulings as well as his preponderance of non-answers to crucial legal questions.  

What shone through Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings was a potential lifelong Supreme Court Justice who would exclusively side with corporations over everyday working Americans, and would not be able to muster much independence from his political party, his conservative views, or the president of the United States who, ironically, has insulted the judges and the legal system on multiple occasions.

So it is rich that today Republicans blame their choosing to pull the trigger on the “nuclear option” on Democrats.

Make no mistake. Republicans did this on their own.  It was their choice and theirs only.  No one forced them to do it.  

In the current landscape, Republicans went “nuclear” perhaps forever changing the nature of the Senate, after just one failed cloture vote.

Republicans went “nuclear” after having the audacity to deny President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee even the courtesy of meetings, let alone a hearing and a vote.  

Republicans went “nuclear” after very specific Democratic opposition to Gorsuch’s record and rulings and never getting any details or explanations of where Gorsuch stood on key issues.  

History and reason do not support this extraordinary, unprecedented move that will now enable President Trump to more easily and readily confirm Supreme Court justices with lifetime appointments who could hold extreme, right-wing views, even more so than Neil Gorsuch does.  

Democrats opposed Gorsuch mainly on principle, not politics.  But a review of the politics and the history that brought us here does not merit the atrociously political “nuclear” option that Republicans have just dropped on the American people.  

And the burden of the fallout will be theirs alone to bear.  

Maria T. Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator.


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