Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Kicking the Can Down the Road

As everyone by now knows, a “moderate” Senate faction of fourteen Democrats and Republicans reached a deal last night that will prevent, for the moment anyway, Senator Frist and the Republican majority in the Senate from resorting to their “nuclear option” of abolishing the filibuster for judicial appointment purposes.

As readers of the Kingdom of Chaos may be aware, I never thought that the “nuclear option” was a particularly good one. Yet the Republicans, the majority party in the Senate and in the country, had few good options, given the Democratic Party’s manipulation of the Senate rules to block appointments of nominees who could win a majority of votes in the Senate. A simple majority is all that the Constitution requires.

The deal is a bad one, it remains to be seen for whom. The deal makers, in writing, have guaranteed an “up or down” vote on appointments to the various Courts of Appeals for Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, Justice Janice Rogers Brown, and Judge William Pryor. In effect, as Senator Cornyn puts it, this is an “admission of guilt” by the Democrats, that these people should never have had their appointments hijacked by filibusters to begin with. Two equally qualified judges, William Meyers and Henry Saad, have been abandoned by Republican signatories to this pact, who “make no commitment” to vote to end debate as to these judges.

How the Democrat parties to this agreement are going to enforce this deal – that is, prevent more than 40 of their confreres from voting against ending debate on Owen, Brown and Pryor (41 puts a filibuster in place) is not clear. There is also the interesting question as to whether the Republican signatories to this deal have privately agreed to vote with their Democratic friends against the confirmation of the three judges released from filibuster purgatory.

As to future appointments, “[n]ominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances” whatever that means.

The disaster has been moved from place to place, the can in effect kicked down the road. This appears to narrow President Bush’s options as to future nominees considerably. A Supreme Court appointment is likely this summer. President Bush will in effect be forced to chose a milquetoast, or face the likely invocation of “extraordinary circumstances.” Based on the text of the agreement – the fourteen signers are committed to oppose any future attempts to change the rules in the 109th Congress, so the “nuclear option” appears to be completely gone.

John McCain, the organizer of this agreement, appears to have given up his Presidential hopes, at least in the Republican Party. The Republican Party will never accept him as a nominee after a sell-out like this. I’m not even sure he can keep his Senate seat. In general, the so-called Republican moderates probably have rather bleak futures in terms of perks and pork from the party of which they are nominally a part. Senator Frist, who had Presidential ambitions, is another loser, the nuclear option was his baby.
It’s not clear that the Democrats are winners either, least of all the Democrats who signed on to this deal. The liberals, at least so far, are denouncing the deal as a sell-out. But on balance, I think for the moment, they have more reasons to be happy then the Republicans.

1 comment:

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