The New York Times reports on the vacancy crisis in the executive branch, and the Senate GOP’s culpability due to its categorical rejection of President Obama’s nominees. To its credit, the Times recognizes that this just isn’t a matter of overzealous but reasonable senatorial prerogative; Republican senators have essentially issued a blanket rejection of all executive branch nominees, and have hijacked the confirmation process in an effort to change or overturn administration policies. It’s not that Republicans can’t see Elizabeth Warren’s qualifications for heading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; it’s that the institution exists and Republicans want to destroy it, or at least, weaken it to uselessness.
This is an unprecedented abuse of the Senate’s right to provide “advice and consent” to the president; it’s one thing for minority senators to hold a nominee in order to make a deal or secure a program; it’s something else entirely for the minority party to overcome its legislative minority by categorically blocking the president’s nominees. On nominees—and a whole host of other procedural issues—Republican behavior has veered into a flagrant disregard for Senate norms.
Naturally, when asked to defend their behavior, Republicans blame Democrats. “They were the first ones to break norms,” Republicans say, “we’re just trying to compensate”:
Republicans say the blockade reflects their frustration with the White House and the last Congress for passing broad policies without winning broad support. Republicans are consigned to defensive tactics because they lack the votes to pursue their own agenda.
“This isn’t about any particular appointee—Ben Franklin could come back to life and they would oppose him,” said Mr. Engelhard, a former Republican aide on the House Financial Services Committee. “There’s just very strong concerns on their side that the process, that traditional way that the Senate likes to come to bipartisan compromise, isn’t working.”
This is pure, unadulterated bullshit, and I’m disappointed by the Times’ willingness to swallow it. From the stimulus package to financial reform, President Obama and Congressional Democrats worked hard to build a bipartisan consensus. In their efforts to find Republican support, Democrats shrunk the stimulus package, scrapped the public option, and crafted a weaker set of financial regulations. It’s not that Democrats refused to build broad support, it’s that Republicans rejected every overture in a clear effort to sink the administration’s agenda. The irony of it all is that Republicans gave up greater influence on current policy when they rejected Democratic attempts at compromise.
Of course, even if that weren’t the case, it doesn’t excuse Republican behavior; in 2008, Democrats won the presidency and large congressional majorities. Insofar that mandates exist, the Democratic Party had earned a right to pursue its agenda to the best of its ability. Democrats owed nothing Republican lawmakers, and they certainly weren’t required to compromise their own interests for the sake of bipartisan comity.