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'Nuclear option' makes GOP do its job

By Sally Kohn
November 21, 2013 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • With "nuclear option," judicial nominees can be confirmed with a simple majority vote
  • Sally Kohn: This will keep GOP from using a procedure to block President's appointments
  • Kohn: GOP made government virtually dysfunctional, blocked Obama at every turn
  • This will hold Republicans' feet to the fire to do their constitutional duty, she says

Editor's note: Sally Kohn is a progressive activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter at @sallykohn.

(CNN) -- The Democratic Party's vote Thursday for the "nuclear option" was a move to deprive the minority party in the Senate of a procedure it has abused to block President Barack Obama's judicial nominees and other appointees. Before, a single Republican could unilaterally and without any reason block a nominee from receiving a simple up-and-down vote on the Senate floor.

The "nuclear option," an overblown term for changing Senate rules to enable judicial and executive nominees to be confirmed with just 51 votes instead of 60, will put an end to using that procedure -- the filibuster -- to block appointees.

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

Republicans have been gumming up the works of our government, both because they ideologically favor the dysfunction of government and because they want to fundamentally undermine the President at every step.

And so during Obama's five years in office, Republicans in the Senate have confirmed just one nominee to the Court of Appeals in Washington, often regarded as the nation's second highest court after the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Republicans have blocked three appointees to the court and held up countless other nominations to other important posts.

There had been a concern that if Democrats went nuclear, nothing would stop Republicans from employing equally restrictive procedures should Democrats be the minority party in the Senate again.

And yet, to anyone watching Washington today, is there any question that Republicans have abandoned any sense of bipartisan decorum and are solely functioning as anti-government, anti-Obama bullies? If Republicans repeatedly resort to such childish thuggery when they're the minority party, it's hard to imagine them behaving much better if they're put in charge.

If Democrats didn't flip the nuclear switch now to allow appointments to go through, Republicans will surely flip it later. At least if Democrats do it first, they get to finally vote on some critical nominees and move the governance and sanctity of our nation forward.

In a statement, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had said that attacking Obamacare is a priority over voting to fill key vacancies in the nation's courts. Sadly, Republicans in Congress are making a mockery of their constitutional obligations while turning the hallowed halls of our government into nothing more than a playground for their ideological circus.

Sometimes that circus is so absurd it hurts.

For instance, Republicans have repeatedly tried to blame the financial crisis on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rather than -- for instance -- the deliberate scamming of big banks that are now paying massive settlements for their wrongdoing. And yet that topsy-turvy reasoning aside, Republicans are blocking the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Authority, deliberately maintaining a vacancy in the position charged with regulating and monitoring Fannie and Freddie.

The Constitution lays out the Senate's responsibility in this regard as clearly secondary to, not equal with, the president's authority:

"[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law."

Advice and consent. Not block and redirect and hold up and try to impose the will of the Senate's minority party on the nominations and actions of the president.

And so Democrats have finally had enough with a Republican Party that seems determined to pitch a temper tantrum about everything Obama does, no matter that he won two elections and his policies are widely popular with voters.

After all, even though the President's approval ratings took a hit, his numbers at 39% are still "sky high" compared with those of Congress, which has a 9% approval rating according to a recent Gallup poll. That's the lowest approval rating since Gallup has collected such data.

Moreover, while such low numbers overall likely reflect voter frustration with the partisan squabble of unproductive government, polls show that voters consistently blame Republicans far more than Democrats for this dynamic, whether for causing the government shutdown or deliberately sabotaging economic progress to hurt the President's image.

"Nuclear option" is a loaded term. Proponents of the measure call it the "constitutional option" in so far as it is constitutional and it would finally hold Senate Republicans' feet to the fire to perform their constitutional duty.

That indeed seems a more accurate description and one that reminds us all that it was Republicans' own reckless and destructive behavior that brought us to this point in the first place.

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The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Sally Kohn.

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