Did the Senate REALLY avert the nuclear option? Is the filibuster still intact for Republicans — and for Democrats for the (likely) day when they are in the minority? Not really. Ezra Klein’s report nails it: dangling the threat of changing the rules so the minority backs down on filibusters is now the “new normal.” And expect Republicans do to the same when they’re in power — even (I predict) on judicial or Supreme Court nominations that the Democrats seek to halt:
This is a game of chicken,” Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute told me on Monday night. “But having seen ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ many times, sometimes games of chicken don’t go down the way you expect.”
In this case, though, the game of chicken played out roughly as Harry Reid expected, or at least hoped. Today, Reid backed down from changing — or “reinterpreting” — the Senate’s rules, which he didn’t want to do anyway. In return, Republicans let Rich Cordray’s nomination to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reach the Senate floor. The National Labor Relations Board will get two new nominees picked by organized labor, which means the board gets a quorum and its full powers back. Tom Perez will get a vote to lead the Department of Labor and Gina McCarthy will get a vote to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
And, as is typical in our partisan politics, the Dems are giving each other high fives as they celebrate partisan victory:
Democratic aides are gleeful. “CAVE,” is how one described the Republicans position over e-mail. They’re getting a vote on every major nominee and agency they wanted. And remember, the aide warned, “this has to be the new normal and we reserve our right to change the rules if the change doesn’t stick.”
And, yes, it’ll be the new normal, all right:
This will be the new normal. It will be the new normal under Democrats and then it will be the new normal under Republicans. The Senate stopped short of actually ending the filibuster against executive-branch nominations today. But the effect might well be the same.
The Senate didn’t actually go nuclear today. But the majority took out a nuke, put it on the table, and made clear they can detonate it whenever they feel like.
It’s clear now that Reid will change the rules if he believes it necessary. But so too will McConnell. If Republicans retake the Senate in 2014 and the presidency in 2016, there’s no way Majority Leader McConnell will permit Democrats to routinely filibuster or otherwise obstruct President Christie’s nominees. If they do, he’ll throw Reid’s words back in their face and make the change Reid threatened to make today.
Klein is correct. The Democrats won a victory. But they have weakened themselves in battle for the longer war.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.