Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Opinion
Jonathan Bernstein

Ted Cruz Renders Himself Impotent

If you obstruct Senate business as much as possible, you can't promise to obstruct it even more.
This time he means it.
This time he means it.

Tailgunner Ted Cruz, the Republican Senator from Texas, has said he will put a hold on all State Department nominees because . . . oh, something to do with Israel, but I’ll leave you all to argue about that part elsewhere. Here, we’re all about Senate procedure, so the question is: What kind of threat is it, at this point in the partisan war, to put a “hold” on anyone? The answer: Thanks to Senate Republicans adopting the very tactics that Cruz embraces, not very much.

The reason a Senate majority leader must respect a hold in the first place is that it's essentially a threat to filibuster. It is not, however, a threat to defeat something by filibuster; a single senator can never defeat something that the other 99 support. That was as true when the threshold to overcome a nomination filibuster was 60 votes as it is now, when it requires only a simple majority of votes. Without majority support, a hold is merely a senator's threat to use every stalling tactic available. Non-controversial nominations take essentially zero time to confirm on the Senate floor. They require no debate and are subject to a voice vote or, in some cases, unanimous consent for several nominations to be confirmed at once.