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Tag "filibuster"

Scott Horton (via hilzoy):

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pull back last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward. [...]

The Justice Department source confirms to me that Brennan has consistently opposed making public the torture memos—and any other details about the operations of the extraordinary renditions program— but this source suggests that concern about the G.O.P.’s roadblock in the confirmation process is the principle reason that the memos were not released. Republican senators have expressed strong reservations about their promised exposure, expressing alarm that a critique of the memos by Justice’s ethics office (Office of Professional Responsibility) will also be released. “There was no ‘direct’ threat,” said the source, “but the message was communicated clearly—if the OLC and OPR memoranda are released to the public, there will be war.” This is understood as a threat to filibuster the nominations of Johnsen and Koh. Not only are they among the most prominent academic critics of the torture memoranda, but are also viewed as the strongest advocates for release of the torture memos on Obama’s legal policy team.

You want a war?  FIne.  We’ll give you war.  If those memos aren’t released, and/or Dawn Johnsen is not confirmed as head of the OLC, JTB will “go nuclear.”  I say this a lot, but I really mean it this time: I will not rest if this stands.  This is a landmark issue for me, and I will scream from the rooftops if I have to.

And damn it, I shouldn’t have to do this.  The Senate Democrats need to grow a pair and stand up to this garbage.  The GOP lost in 2008.  They lost real bad.  They shouldn’t have unilateral authority to blackmail the President into not doing something within his prerogative as Chief Executive.  The want to filibuster?  FIne.  Let’s have a damn filibuster.  I want to see 24/7 debate on the Senae floor, cots and all.  I want CNN to constantly broadcast for hours on end that the Republican Party supports secret legal opinions, and furthermore, is willing to hold up the entire schedule of the Senate to preserve said memos.  You can even squeeze that on a bumper sticker:

GOP ♥ Secret Legal Opinions

GOP ♥ Torture

If the GOP wants war, we’ll give it to them.

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So I was driving home yesterday, listening to NPR, and I heard Mara Liasson say something that really bothered me:

…just because of the structure of the Senate.  It takes 60 votes to pass anything.

This bothers me because it doesn’t take 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate, but for some reason we’ve all come to accept that it does take 60 votes to pass anything.

There are a lot of people that hate the filibuster.  Matt Yglesias is one of them.  And recent events have given them good reason to think that it’s an anachronistic tradition that reeks of 19th century elitism.  But, I happen to like the filibuster.

The unique thing about the way the two houses of Congress are set up is that they balance each other, which makes sense.  Why have two houses if they’re both carbon copies of one another?  The House is above all else a majority instituion.  The majority absolutely dominates.  They set the calendar, they make the rules, and they pass whatever bills they want.

The Senate, on the other hand, is a minority institution.  There are less members, and each Senator has much more discretion.  There are unanimous consent for rules, there’s anonymous 24-hour holds, and, of course, there’s the filibuster.

Now, the filibuster, in it’s true form, serves an essential purpose.  The basic premise is, basically, “I disagree with this legislation so strongly that I’m willing to place everything else on hold to stop it.”  There’s a cost.  You become famous for standing against the bill, but you also can’t do anything else.  You can’t pass that joint resolution congratulating the Pittsburgh Steelers for winning the Super Bowl.  You can’t rename any post offices, and you can’t confirm any judges.  You just wait.

But that was in the past.  Soon, all kinds of softening measures were put into place, until a filibuster became just another thing you did when you didn’t really like a bill.  Hell, you don’t even need to do anything now except say you’re filibustering.

And the Republicans have said that a lot lately.  Below is a graph of the number of cloture votes in modern Congressional sessions.  The Republicans crushed the former record of 61 filibusters, finally clocking in at 139 for the last session of Congress.  This is ludicrous.

The filibuster needs to return to a high-profile event.  Everyone needs to know when a filibuster is happening, and it should be a big deal.  The only way that happens is if you shut down the Senate every time it occurs.  Get the aides to roll-in the cots, because the filibuster needs to return to its proper stature, but most of all, it needs to return to its proper frequency.

Because it shouldn’t take 60 votes to pass anything.

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