GOP Can Still Stall Presidential Nominees Despite The Nuclear Option

On November 21, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – Nev.) followed through on a threat he had issued more than once this year to use procedural maneuvers to end filibuster on presidential appointees. In doing so, Harry Reid may have shut down what little remains of the legislative process.

Shortly after the 52-48 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider the nominations of ten judges, an assistant attorney general, two U.S. marshals, and four pieces of legislation. All eight Republican members of the committee did not attend the meeting depriving the committee of the required quorum. No action was taken and the committee recessed indefinitely.

This could be a signal of how the GOP will respond. Without a quorum, no votes can be taken.

If committee rules require a member of the minority to be present for there to be a quorum, as do the Judiciary Committee rules, not attending committee meetings halts any action. If for some reason less than 50 Democratic senators are present when the Senate is in session, no GOP attendance will shut the Senate down.

I do not believe this is out of the realm of possibility.

There is no question the GOP is outraged. Are moderates now willing to join their more vocal conservative colleagues is blocking any action? Is Harry Reid brave (or stupid) enough to use procedure to bring all bills and nominees directly to the Senate floor?

In January, it looked like senators resolved their differences on the filibuster. On votes of 78-16 and 86-9, the Senate changed the allowable hours of debate and made it easier to bring a vote on motions to proceed. The changes also guaranteed the right of both parties to propose two amendments during debate on the floor.

While the changes expire at the end of the current Congress, they gave the appearance of a thaw, a possible return of at least some bipartisanship.

In the 10 months since the filibuster changes were implemented, the Senate confirmed the secretaries of state, defense, energy, transportation, commerce, and labor. They also pushed through the confirmations of the director of the Center for Medicaid and Medicare, chairs for the National Labor Relations Board, and Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, three members of the National Labor Relations Board, and 40 judges.

Additionally, senators passed the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, comprehensive immigration reform, and a bill adding sexual orientation as a protected class against discrimination. Whether the agreement on filibuster was directly responsible for this return to a semblance of bipartisanship is anyone’s guess. However, given the use of administrative procedures by Senate Democrats to advance judicial appointments, I doubt we will see any more.

As Nevada is known for the gambling-filled city of Las Vegas, Harry Reid placed a bet that he hopes will hit the jackpot. He may have forgotten about the role of committees and the requirement for a quorum in completing Senate business. The precedent, however,  has been set by the Democrats to advance legislation by changing the rules. Harry Reid may have just crapped out.

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