How strange but fitting that the U.S. Senate uses the nuclear option of ultimate annhiliation as metaphor for repealing the filibuster on Supeme Court nominations. After all, the appointment of a judge to the nation’s highest court for a lifetime is the most consequential selection entrusted to the Senate. Because 60 votes are needed to end a filibuster, in effect the same number was needed for the Senate to approve a nominee. In theory at least. But when Neil Gorsuch’s nomination is approved by a simple majority of senators today, it will be the result of yesterday’s repeal of the filibuster rule on Supeme Court appointments. Ka-boom.
McConnell and Schumer, Majority and Minority leaders, both say that the filibuster will not be repealed on legislative matters, but why not? If they’ve adopted a take-no-prisoners approach to their most solemn executive appointment, why not lower the bar for more mundane matters, such as health care? I would add the power to declare war but Congress surrendered that one years ago. They just pay the bills and let the President declare and conduct wars on his own.
Now, the U.S. Secretary of State has said, in reference to North Korea, that all options are on the table— which would include an option to drop a nuclear bomb on the Hermit Kingdom. The nuclear option as non-metaphor. That table he’s talking about might be a gold-encrusted banquet at which Trump and Xi dine at Mar-a-Lago this weekend, in the secure cocoon of the Secret Service and a few hundred of the Palm Beach nobility out for a big night. Out of stone crabs, are we? I’d dreaded the day that generals ran the country’s foreign policy, but under current circumstances, it’s reassuring. At least, they know what real nuclear options are.
So, our beloved Senate, a bastion of restraint and experience, is as divided as Korea. The parties are so polarized that the two caucuses have lost the ability to compromise. They cannot talk across party aisles, even when the unity of Americans as one people is at stake. Nuclear option is an apt description after all for a policy that can alter forever the politics of the republic.
Despite the extremes of public opinion, a relatively restrained, conservative and collegial Senate once horse-traded its way to centrist politics. In a good settlement, everybody walks away slightly unhappy. But there will be few settlements if a minority has no leverage against strict party-line majority voting. There will be no balance in government, only a pendulum swinging in a wider, scarier arc.