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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Republicans turn Senate rules, traditions into weapons of mass obstruction

Republican obstruction of the president’s nominees on the Senate floor through use of (often silent) filibusters has been well-documented, but in the past two days the public has seen what those of us working on judicial nominees have known for far too long – the obstruction is often just as bad at the committee level.

Gina McCarthy
Just one day after using an arcane procedural maneuver to delay a committee vote on the nomination of Tom Perez to serve as Secretary of Labor, Senate Republicans have used another underhanded ploy to delay a committee vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  They boycotted a meeting of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to prevent the Committee from even holding a vote.  Committee Republicans could hardly argue they lacked sufficient information to form an opinion on McCarthy – she answered more than 1,000 questions from committee members.

On one level this behavior is understandable.  To Senate Republicans, one of the only things as bad as a Labor Secretary who will protect working people is an Environmental Protection Agency administrator who will protect the environment.  But the brazen nature of these committee delay tactics is shocking nonetheless.

Unfortunately, in the context of judicial nominations, such committee delays have become commonplace – and start even earlier in the process.  By committee tradition,* the Senate Judiciary Committee typically won’t hold a hearing on a judicial nominee unless both home-state senators agree to allow the nomination to move forward.    Like any such tradition, it works only as long as it is not exploited.  But that is exactly what Senate Republicans are doing now.

That means some judicial nominees are stuck in limbo waiting for Judiciary Committee hearings months or years after they were nominated.  In many more cases, the White House – reluctant to impose that fate on nominees – is left waiting in vain for Republican home-state senators to help identify acceptable candidates.

And, coming full circle, hanging over all of this obstruction at the committee level (and sometimes before) is the knowledge that even if nominees survive those obstacles, they face the specter of the filibuster once they reach the floor.  The events of the past two days make clear, once again, that the weak-kneed agreement on Senate rules reached in January cannot come close to constraining the Republicans’ willingness to turn rules and traditions into weapons of mass obstruction.  The Senate needs to back to the drawing board and enact tough-minded rules reform now.

Read more about obstruction by Senate Republicans:
*-Although this tradition has been in place to some degree for many years, not all Judiciary Committee chairmen have been as generous as the current one in waiting for both home-state senators to indicate assent before holding a hearing.

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