At this writing, Senate Democrats are threatening to exercise the so-called “nuclear option” – a parliamentary maneuver that would end, once and for all, the minority’s ability to block presidential nominations with just forty-one votes. It is a safe bet that, if Majority Leader Harry Reid can get away with doing this for the president’s appointees to executive branch positions, he will soon apply the rule change to his nominations for judicial ones and then to all other Senate legislative business.
In short order, the senatorial minority would be reduced to the status of the opposition in Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood: effectively stripped of the opportunity to resist the majority, they will soon be stripped of their rights more generally. And, in due course, so will the rest of us. (Given the Islamist character of the Brotherhood, this was an absolutely predictable – and predicted – outcome in Egypt. And, just as predictably, it will be the Brothers’ ambition to reestablish such an arrangement if the United States insanely insists on that anti-democratic organization’s restoration to power, or even its “inclusion” in the political process going forward.)
Think it can’t happen here? Think that even if does, it won’t really be that bad because the House of Representatives remains in Republican hands and can serve as a check on Senate abuses?
Think again. In the past when they were in the minority, Senate Democrats railed against the nuclear option and, with the help of seven of their Republican colleagues, constituted a “Gang of 14” to block its adoption. The Democrats knew how bad things could get if the then-majority was able to work its will basically unchecked. And they were able to persuade enough Republicans to support them with the argument that the GOP may at some point be in the minority again.
Now, however, Democrats are not simply the dominant party in the Senate. It appears that they are emboldened by the prospect that the “comprehensive immigration reform” bill they adopted recently will become law at some point. If so, they understand that it will likely translate into permanent majority status for their party for the foreseeable future, probably in both houses of Congress.
Nearly as troubling as the possibility that Harry Reid will exercise the nuclear option – and, thereby, take a huge step towards shredding what is left of America’s constitutional system of checks-and-balances after four-and-a-half years of Obama’s presidency – is another prospect: That Republicans will cease to exercise the right they currently have to block seriously problematic presidential appointments.
To be sure, Sen. Reid is motivated by the impediments some GOP senators have thrown up to his efforts to secure consent to the President’s controversial nominations to the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and Tom Perez’s appointment to be the next Secretary of Labor. Yet, there has been an increasing refrain from GOP senators of late to the effect that the president is entitled to his appointees. If this actually is the view of the minority caucus, they might as well let Harry Reid eviscerate the filibuster and put them out of business.
The Constitution is clear: The Senate is invested with the power and the responsibility to “advise and consent” to key presidential appointments. That applies irrespective of the party in the White House. In the vast majority of cases, the exercise of this responsibility is basically a formality.
It must be more than that in instances where the nominee is clearly unfit to serve. That point is generally accepted where there is evidence of criminal or other conduct on the part of the designated appointee that would be legally disqualifying. But it should be equally true – as the Democrats have long practiced – in circumstances where the policy views and record of the nominee should be disqualifying.
A case in point is the nomination of Samantha Power to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. For many years, Power has exhibited a reflexive antipathy towards this country that will make her fit right in at the UN, but make her incapable of representing America there – let alone successfully defending her and her vital interests.
It remains to be seen whether GOP members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will oblige the nominee at her hearing on Wednesday to explain her publicly stated views that:
O The United States has engaged in “criminal” conduct akin to that of the Nazis, warranting a formal apology like that extended by former German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1970;
O The United States should be willing to compromise its sovereignty to promote and submit to international organizations and norms;
O America should be “investing in societies that actually don’t have anything to do with our national security…strictly in order to benefit other people”; and
O Israel is morally equivalent to her terrorist and other enemies, she exercises through Jewish Americans and in her own right undue influence over U.S. policy and the U.S. should cut off funding for the Israeli military and give “billions” to help build the “new State of Palestine.”
People like Samantha Power should be nowhere near positions of responsibility in which they can promote such radical views. If Senate Republicans are to ensure such an outcome, however, they are not only going to have to fight efforts to strip them of their ability to filibuster such deplorable presidential appointments. They are going to have to utilize that ability, as well.