Early Returns

Republicans Keep Escalating the War Over Nominations

Senator Grassley struck another blow on Thursday, with no end in sight. Plus, your morning political links.

Here come the judges.

Photographer: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Wow, Chuck Grassley. The Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee gave away the game as he plowed under another Senate norm: The "blue slip" procedure which until Thursday gave home-state Senators the ability to block judicial nominees from their states. 

“The Democrats seriously regret that they abolished the filibuster, as I warned them they would,” Grassley said in his floor speech. “But they can’t expect to use the blue slip courtesy in its place. That’s not what the blue slip is meant for.”

To review: In 2013, Senate Republicans, then a minority in the chamber, blockaded three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court. That is, they didn't just oppose the specific people Barack Obama had nominated, as Democrats had done against a handful of George W. Bush's nominees. Instead, they simply said that they would defeat any Obama nominee by filibuster. At that point, Democrats -- who had accepted the minority's right to use the filibuster against individual nominees, unlike Republicans during the Bush presidency -- changed the rules, allowing judicial and executive branch nominations to be confirmed by majority vote. 

Should Democrats regret that decision because Republicans have used it to confirm Trump's nominees? 

Of course not. Since Democrats acted, Republicans have run roughshod over Senate nomination norms in at least three ways. In the last two years of Obama's presidency, Republicans used their new majority to almost completely shut down judicial confirmations, most notoriously by refusing to take up his nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy. It had been normal to curtail nominations in the final months of a presidency, but a new Democratic majority in 2007-2008 confirmed far more judges than the Republicans did in 2015-2016.

Then when Democrats opposed Neil Gorsuch based on specific objections to his record, Republican Senators immediately eliminated the remaining ability for minorities to defeat a Supreme Court nomination by filibuster. Democrats had not declared they were blockading the seat; they might well have approved a different nominee, or at least opposed him or or without a filibuster. But Republicans immediately went nuclear at the first possible opportunity.

And now Grassley is eliminating the traditional blue slip process, at least for appellate judges. Again, he's basically doing it the very first time it was used against specific nominees. It's a norm Democratic Judiciary Committee Chair Pat Leahy respected throughout Obama's presidency, even though it meant some nominees could not be confirmed. 

Given all of that, there's simply no reason to believe that Grassley, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the Republicans would have let the judicial (or executive branch) filibuster survive the first few months of the Trump administration. They haven't been retaliating for Democratic violations of norms; they've been massively escalating the war over nominations. Just as they did during the Obama presidency. 

Indeed, thinking of the Democratic decision to go nuclear and eliminate those filibusters in 2013 as an escalation is simply a mistake. It was a defensive action, and a necessary one. If they hadn't acted, even more seats would have been left open; indeed, the most likely result would have been Republican blockades of more and more seats until Democrats finally took action. 

Democrats are not blameless in the long march towards a strict majority-party-rule Senate, which does appear to be where everything is heading. They did, in fact, escalate when they filibustered some George W. Bush judicial nominations. And Republicans haven't always maximized everything they could do by majority rule; that's why their tax cut is going through reconciliation, with the legislative filibuster still in place so far at least. But the blame (or for those who want majority party rule, the credit) is not equally shared. Republicans have been responsible for the bulk of norm-shattering, and Grassley took another big step in that direction on Thursday.


1. Julia Azari on the options for Alabama Republicans

2. Mélida Jiménez at the Monkey Cage has some relatively good news about global democracy.

3. Joshua Darr at Mischiefs of Faction on the 2016 Democratic field campaign

4. Amanda Erickson on why inequality is bad for democracy

5. Amy Walter at the Cook Political Report sees a big year for the Democrats coming in 2018

6. Good reporting from Roll Call's Lindsey McPherson on House Republicans who voted for a tax bill they hope will somehow improve. 

7. John Harwood on who will pay the bill for the Republican tax cuts. 

8. And Politco asks about the first woman president.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Mike Nizza at mnizza3@bloomberg.net

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