cloture votes

Religious Right Groups And Chamber of Commerce Fail To Block District Court Nominee

Religious Right and pro-corporate groups failed today to block President Obama’s nominee for U.S. District Court in Rhode Island, John McConnell, from receiving an up-or-down vote in the Senate. The Senate invoked cloture on McConnell’s nomination in a 63-33 vote, defeating the filibuster against McConnell. Filibusters against district court judges are extremely rare—only a handful of District Court nominees have ever faced cloture votes, and none have ever been blocked—and many Republicans previously vowed they would never filibuster a judicial nominee.

Today’s vote came after a long wait for McConnell: according to The Providence Journal, the delay caused by the concerted right-wing effort to block McConnell forced Rhode Island’s chief federal judge to “take the unusual step of reassigning more than two dozen civil cases to judges in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.”

Why the tough fight? McConnell faced virulent opposition from the Chamber of Commerce over his role fighting big tobacco companies and lead paint manufacturers. The Chamber and other groups that oppose corporate accountability found allies in the Religious Right groups that decided to fight McConnell as well.

The Conservative Action Project made McConnell a top target of their efforts. The group includes pro-corporate organizations like the 60 Plus Association, National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Limited Government, Citizens United, and American Tax Reform, along with social conservatives such as the Family Research Council, Traditional Values Coalition, Heritage Action, American Values, Liberty Counsel Action, and Eagle Forum. The Conservative Action Project’s Memo to the Movement [PDF] claimed McConnell was unqualified to serve in the judiciary because he was a trial lawyer with a history of challenging big business.

Eagle Forum derided him as a “pro-choice, anti-business, pro-judicial activism nominee” who “has made numerous anti-business statements.” The Family Research Council slammed McConnell for his ties to the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the country’s most prominent civil rights organizations, and Phillip Jauregui’s Judicial Action Group said that his link to the SPLC and the American Constitution Society shows he “supports organizations who support homosexual marriage and oppose conservative politicians.”

While the Corporate Right and the Religious Right of the McConnell nomination failed, many of these organizations will continue to work together to block other qualified judicial nominees and aggravate the country’s burgeoning judicial vacancy crisis.

The Single Most Important Election In American History

I was fully prepared for conservative gloating in the event that Scott Brown won the special election for the Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy.  It was, after all, a significant victory ... but according to the early commentary from right-wing analysts, it was not only an impressive upset but rather the single most important election in the history of America, ever - an election which signals the complete and utter downfall of everything from health care to immigration reform, and the end of President Obama and the (still sizable) Democratic majorities in Congress:

The Christian Defense Coalition:

Let me be clear. Tonight a second American Revolution has begun in the great state of Massachusetts. It is a revolution fueled by passion and the belief that the voice of people matters more than the narrow views of the political elite.

"A republican win in Massachusetts for the seat held by Senator Ted Kennedy for over 40 years was unthinkable even a few months ago.

"What changed?

"The American people have become angry and frustrated by the policies of President Obama and Speaker Pelosi and the arrogant way they have completely disregarded the voice of the people.

"You cannot promise to be transparent in the health care debate and ensure it is shown on television and then try to hammer out closed back room deals and expect the American public to sit idly by.

"President Obama has been tone deaf when it comes to the desires, wishes and dreams of the American people.

"For example, 71% of the American people oppose public monies being used to pay for abortions yet President Obama has ignored this fact and pressed forward with this flawed health care reform.

"Tonight is a clear signal that hope and change has turned into anger and frustration and the revolution has begun.

"Bring on November 2010."

Concerned Women for America:

Today's vote in Massachusetts was as much about the Obama/Reid/Pelosi regime as it was to select a new senator. The voters in the bluest of states rejected the candidate who supported the latest power grab of ObamaCare.

"Massachusetts' citizens know what ObamaCare would be like -- their state passed oppressive health care 'reform' that subsidizes abortions. They're paying the high prices and getting less health care because of it.

"But that doesn't mean President Obama, Sen. Reid or Rep. Pelosi will listen to this extraordinary message. They never quit -- they just get sneakier.

Deacon Keith Fournier:

On the day before the anniversary of the swearing in of President Barack Obama, the people of blue collar Massachusetts have sent a strong message. They showed that there is a growing angst in the US electorate over the economy, unemployment, bailouts, deficits and the expansion of the power and role of the federal government.

This special election in Massachusetts will be the subject of continuing speculation among the pundits for months. Already, the finger- pointing has begun in efforts to assess blame. Whether it will spark a wave of retirements among Democrats whose seats are up this year and whether it signals a national trend against the Democratic Party are just two of the many topics which will serve as fodder for talking heads in the days ahead.

However, there is no doubt that Senator Elect Brown’s significant victory is a wake up call to the current national leadership of the Democratic Party. Several media personalities who not only disparaged Scott Brown but ruthlessly savaged him will be eating a lot of crow. Their commentary will most certainly be played over and over again as the pundit class smells blood in the waters.

What is also clear is that the election in Massachusetts signals a major shift in the sentiment of US voters. It is not a sign of a new partisan movement, but a movement away from many of the big government approaches of the current administration. The emergence of the Independent voter in the two Commonwealth States of Virginia and Massachusetts will become the story of the campaigns of 2010 and 2012.

Susan B. Anthony List:

"On the heels of last fall's victories by Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie, Scott Brown's victory is just the beginning of the consequences Congressional incumbents will face this November. Anyone who votes to advance health care legislation that funds abortion on-demand should consider themselves on notice.

"The election of Scott Brown is no accident. This election is about more than parties or candidates. The election is just one more sign of the overreach of the President and Congress. The American people have spoken tonight.

Americans for Legal Immigration PAC:

"The Brown victory not only breaks the Democratic 60 vote hold on the U.S. Senate needed for cloture votes, but it sends a clear message that voters prefer pro-enforcement candidates instead of pro-amnesty candidates." said William Gheen, president of ALIPAC. "We will be working hard to defeat the Amnesty legislation filed in Congress and to repeat the Brown-Coakley scenario in hundreds of races this November."

...

"Americans are sick and tired of politicians who are servants of powerful special interests, instead of the American public." said Gheen. "A political revolution has begun in America, illegal immigration is a core issue fueling that revolt, and a lot of politicians are about to join the unemployment lines."

Fred Barnes:

Oh, yes. The health care bill, ObamaCare, is dead with not the slightest prospect of resurrection. Brown ran to be the 41st vote for filibuster and now he is just that. Democrats have talked up clever strategies to pass the bill in the Senate despite Brown, but they won’t fly. It’s one thing for ObamaCare to be rejected by the American public in poll after poll. But it becomes a matter of considerably greater political magnitude when ObamaCare causes the loss of a Senate race in the blue state of Massachusetts.

Then there’s the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists some version of ObamaCare will be approved and soon. She’s not kidding. She’s simply wrong. At best, she has the minimum 218 votes for passage. After the Massachusetts fiasco, however, there’s sure to be erosion. How many Democrats in Republican-leaning districts want to vote for ObamaCare, post-Massachusetts? Not many.

And finally Joseph Farah:

I hate to say it, but I really did tell you so.

...

This is just the beginning.

It's not the Republican Party that made this happen.

It was an awakening by the American people.

They don't want to live under socialism.

They don't want to live under tyranny.

They don't want to live in a nanny state.

They don't want to live in misery.

They don't want to live under government's thumb.

They want to be free.

So let's celebrate today. Let's smile and rejoice. Let's take comfort in what appears to be a second chance for America.

A Lesson In Senate Procedure for FRC

We have known for some time now that the Right was targeting Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's nominee to head the Office of Legal Counsel, for defeat.  But what we weren't aware of, until reading this post from the Family Research Council's Tom McClusky, was that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn't have the votes to get her confirmed:

Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is now telling reporters he does not have the votes to confirm Dawn Johnsen for Assistant Attorney General at the Justice Department. Ms. Johnsen has been a long time advocate for abortion rights groups, comparing pregnancy to slavery. She has also been outspoken on counterterrorism measures.

Of course, if you read the article he links to, you find out that Reid didn't say he doesn't have the votes to confirm Johnsen - what he actually said was that he doesn't have the votes to prevent a Republican-led filibuster of her nomination:

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moves to ease a backlog of executive branch nominations, he suggested on Tuesday that he does not have the votes to bring up President Barack Obama’s pick to run the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

“Right now we’re finding out when to do that,” Reid said, responding to a question about the status of Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen’s nomination to the Justice post. “We need a couple Republican votes until we can get to 60.”

As Reid explained elsewhere:

“We need a couple Republican votes until we can get to 60," Reid added. And it's just a small number, maybe two or three. But at this stage, I don't have all the Democrats. I have virtually all, but not all. And remember, we have 59 Democrats, and that's not enough to do it."

Reid has more than enough votes to confirm Johnsen if she can get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, which is exactly what Republicans are trying to prevent with a filibuster. 

According to his bio, McClusky has a long history of working in politics, including a stint as a political analyst for the Republican National Committee, so presumably he knows about Senate procedure and the difference between a confirmation vote and a cloture vote.

In fact, I 'm pretty sure that he does, because just a few years ago, he signed onto a letter calling on Senators to ensure that Bush administration nominees received an up-or-down vote on the floor:

If you cannot support a particular nominee, vote him or her out of committee without a positive recommendation, or vote against confirmation. But please do not deny the nominee a fair up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. In other words, we ask only that you do your job by putting statesmanship above politics and special interests.

Is it too much to ask that the Vice President for Government Affairs at the Family Research Council not hypocritically and purposely mischaracterize what is going on regarding Johnsen's nomination and the GOP's obstruction efforts?

Apparently it is.

Extraordinary Circumstances: The GOP Judges Letter and the Gang of 14

Back in 2005, when seven Republicans and seven Democrats in the Senate came together to form the "Gang of 14" in order to prevent Senate Republicans from deploying the "nuclear option" to do away with the filibuster of judicial nominees, they agreed to cloture votes on three controversial Bush nominees and pledged that, from that point on "nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist."

What exactly the phrase "extraordinary circumstances" meant, nobody was sure, as even the agreement reached by the group openly stated.

Following this agreement, no Bush administration judicial nominees were successfully filibustered - not even the nomination of Samuel Alito to sit on the Supreme Court.  Considering that Alito was nominated only after the Right had destroyed President Bush's first choice, Harriet Miers, and forced her to withdraw. If anything met the vague "extraordinary circumstances" standard, it was Altio's nomination, but even then efforts to filibuster his nomination went nowhere.

Today, the Committee for Justice's Curt Levey weighs in on the Senate Republicans' threat to filibuster any of President Obama's judicial nominees if they are "not consulted on, and approve of, a nominee" from their respective states, praising them for standing together and standing up to the Democrats' hypothetical attempts to ram through a bunch of "extreme nominees":

The most significant aspect of yesterday’s letter is the fact that it was signed by all GOP senators. All 41 Republicans will be needed for the party to use the filibuster – or threat thereof – as a tool to force extended debate on Obama’s judicial nominees and, if necessary, to block nominees so extreme that they meet the "extraordinary circumstances" standard set forth in the Gang of 14 agreement. Without such a tool, Democrats would likely rush Obama’s more extreme nominees through the Senate in order to avoid the controversy that would spring from a full airing of their records.

But the Senate Republicans' letter doesn’t threaten to filibuster in “extraordinary circumstances” - it threatens to filibuster every single nominee unless Obama caves to their specific set of demands. Levey is claiming that any nominee they deem "extreme" automatically triggers the "'extraordinary circumstances' standard" and thus justifies a filibuster when the original intent of that Gang of 14 provision was to do away with the filibuster except for under, you know, "extraordinary circumstances."

How did something designed to end the filibuster when Democrats were using it become the justification for the filibuster now that Republicans are intending to use it?

Furthermore, the text of the Gang of 14's "Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Nominations" explicitly limited its scope to the 109th Congress:

This memorandum confirms an understanding among the signatories, based upon mutual trust and confidence, related to pending and future judicial nominations in the 109th Congress.

The entire agreement was designed to avoid a nuclear showdown in the Senate during the 109th Congress, yet Levey is claiming that it somehow created a permanent standard that exists to this day when it clearly does nothing of the sort and was never intended to do so.

So, aside from the fact that the Gang of 14's compromise was limited to a past Congress and the GOP letter doesn’t refer to "extraordinary circumstances," Levey analysis is spot on.

Manuel Miranda: A One-Man Army

Ever since losing his job with Sen. Frist a few years ago, Manuel Miranda has refashioned himself as a one-man, right-wing force to be reckoned with on judicial nominations.  Even before stepping down, Miranda was working behind the scenes, orchestrating the GOP’s 2003 “reverse filibuster” protest.  

After a short-lived disgrace caused by his run-in with basic ethics, Miranda returned to the scene with the launching of the National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters, since renamed the Third Branch Conference.  Since then, Miranda has been behind just about every right-wing grassroots effort to force confirmation of President Bush’s judicial nominees. 

As the original name of his organization suggests, Miranda, along with dozens of other right-wing leaders, pushed Senate Republicans hard to eliminate the use of the filibuster via the “nuclear option.”  Though the effort failed because of the emergence of the “Gang of 14,” Miranda pressed on, writing dozens of columns calling for the confirmation of John Roberts and, according to The Hill, almost single-handedly killing Harriet Miers’ nomination.

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