There's nothing "nuclear" about what Democrats just did in the Senate, revising the rules in the middle of a session on a majority vote which the rules wouldn't normally allow. The argument for this change is that Senate rules are superseded by the Constitution, which says that votes in the Senate are subject to a simple majority.
That's why everyone agrees that it only takes 51 votes to set the rules at the beginning of a new session of Congress. Nobody argues otherwise. If the Constitution dictates that it only takes 51 votes to set the rules -- regardless of when -- then no rule or federal law can change that.
Similarly, that line of thought would make the filibuster rule itself unconstitutional anyway.
What today's action does is return the Senate to the way it was envisioned to function by the founders and the way it is supposed to function according to the Constitution. That was a good start, but the work isn't done. There are other ways to keep extremist judges off the bench, the best of them is probably to eliminate lifetime appointments.
The argument that filibusters are needed for judges because of lifetime appointments to keep them from being influenced by politics has never held water. Every time the Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 for or against something, Republicans/conservatives on one side and Democrats/liberals on the other, that argument has taken a hit. By now there's just nothing left but bits and pieces on the floor.
It might create a lot of turnover in the courts, perhaps too much, and subject judges to political retaliation for politically unfavorable rulings, but those are problems to be solved another day.
I endorse this statement wholeheartedly by Daily Beast's Daniel Gross:
Don't blame radical right Senators for nuclear option. Blame moderate GOPers, who, over and over again, voted to filibuster.
That is exactly right. If there's anything we've learned about the Republican Party since 2008, it's that it can't stop hurting itself because of its extremist, uncompromising views, even amongst the supposed moderates. The problem seems to be systemic in nature and perhaps a natural feature of the modern conservative ideology when out of power.
Anti-women and anti-science GOP candidates handed Democrats easy wins in 2012 because they didn't see the value in keeping their stupid, controversial views to themselves for their own good. The entire party went all-in against the Affordable Care Act rather than working with Democrats to make the legislation more to their liking in exchange for votes. They shut down the government this year and got nothing at all from and possibly even lost the Virginia Governorship because of it.
Instead of giving President Obama and Democrats a couple of concessions on D.C. court nominees and giving only a small bit of ground, now the President will get every single person he wants on the bench across the entire nation. How is this new reality not substantially worse for the Republican Party than compromising just a little bit? Republicans should be happy that Obama is such a weak liberal because it's not like he's nominated a bunch of far-left ideologues thus far.
The filibuster mess perfectly mirrors what happened with the ACA. This is the price that Republicans pay for adopting the governing philosophy of George W. Bush, treating any amount of compromise as total surrender.
What Republicans don't understand is that compromise in politics isn't about winning, it's about not losing *big*. They refused to compromise over health care reform and lost big. They refused to compromise over the budget and debt ceiling and lost big. They refused to compromise over judicial nominees and just lost everything.
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Before I run off to do something productive today, here are a few quotes from 2005 when the sides were reversed.
First, here's Harry Reid:
We believe in following the rules, not breaking the rules. While it is good to talk about this up or down vote, the move forward as contemplated by the majority is breaking the rules.
Reid said it and he should own it. As I said at the outset of this post, that's actually true. But it wasn't a good argument because the next one in line is that "Yeah, but those rules are unconstitutional and not the way this chamber was intended to function." That's also true, and that's the thing that's going to stick.
And here's then-Senate Majority leader Republican Dr. Bill Frist:
I don't rise for party, I rise for principle. I rise for the principle that the judicial nominees with the support of the majority of senators deserve up or down votes on this floor.
Congratulations, Bill Frist. You won. Like Harry Reid, now you've got to own it. Had Republicans gotten what they wanted in 2005, we'd be in the same position today as we already are. Conservatives aren't mad that they just got put in their place as the minority party, they're pissed that they didn't do this to Democrats eight years ago.