Come January, Republicans will control the Senate and thus the entire Congress. This new alignment is going to be hugely problematic for progressive governance—perhaps for governance, period. Here’s a nonexhaustive catalog of the trouble that lies ahead.
Staffing the executive and judicial branches. For much of Obama’s presidency, Senate Republicans stymied dozens of presidential appointments, reflexively blocking nominees, often without bothering to offer any actual objections. Harry Reid implemented filibuster reform one year ago, and nominations have been handled more quickly. But with Republicans in charge, expect them to grind to a halt once again.
Republicans understand that failing to staff the executive and judicial branches (especially the latter) is a great way to slow down Obama’s agenda and affect the trajectory of US jurisprudence long after he leaves office. There are still fifty-nine vacancies on federal district and appellate courts, and 35 percent of those seats are in areas that have been declared a judicial emergency.
Filling a Supreme Court vacancy. The old filibuster rules required sixty votes to confirm a Supreme Court nominee—a tough lift, but Obama has managed it twice already. With Republicans in charge, it may be impossible.
In the event that Obama sends any clearly liberal judge to the Senate, it’s easy to imagine the GOP blocking that person outright. Alternatively, Obama could try to avoid that situation by nominating a judge with no discernible views on key issues like abortion and money in politics. This might be the more terrifying of the two possibilities.
Deregulating carbon emissions. If the GOP’s biggest goal is repealing Obamacare, a close second is blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits on carbon emissions. The GOP House has actually passed more bills targeting the EPA than it has bills repealing Obamacare. And unlike the case of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have the full and enthusiastic backing of their corporate allies in blocking EPA carbon limits.
When Jim Inhofe, author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, takes the gavel of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in January, he can—and almost surely will—deny funding for these regulations.