In the wake of yesterday’s extremely disappointing election in Massachusetts, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Democrats had somehow lost control of the Senate. In fact, the Democrats still have an 18 vote majority–an enormous power base in a legislative chamber with only 100 seats.
Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger points out that on Supreme Court nominations, President Obama has a majority that most presidents would envy:
President George H. W. Bush had only 43 Republican Senators when he nominated Judge Clarence Thomas – undoubtedly the most conservative nominee of the past half-century – to the Supreme Court. That’s right: 43 Senators of his party. In the end, Justice Thomas was confirmed 52 to 48. The nomination was not remotely close to having enough Senators to prevail on a cloture vote – that would have required all 43 Republicans, joined by 17 Democrats. But he was confirmed because the settled expectation was that the President and the country are entitled to have an up or down vote on a matter such as a Supreme Court nomination. A filibuster that prevented such a vote was politically unthinkable.
And if there aren’t 60 votes in favor of a particular issue or nominee? Let them filibuster. After a while, voters might start wondering why it is that 41 senators won’t allow a vote on legislation with clear majority support.