Over the weekend, a number began circulating in liberal circles in an attempt to justify the Democrats’ effort to filibuster Neil Gorsuch. The number was that there have been 148 cloture votes on judicial nominees in our entire history … and 79 of them took place under Obama.
The number instantly triggered my BS alarm and rightly so. As Ed Whelan details, this number is garbage. It turns out that Harry Reid routinely filed cloture motions on bills and nominations even when there was no filibuster or no threat of one (most likely to try to evade debate on Obama’s nominations and proposals).
By my quick count, the cloture motions that Reid filed on some 39 of the 79 nominees were withdrawn or mooted, and the motions on 28 others were successful, many with strong Republican support. (Only twelve of the 28 received more than 30 negative votes, and eleven of them had fewer than twenty negative votes.) All of those nominees were confirmed.
Of the eleven cloture motions that were defeated, three of the nominations were confirmed after some delay, and four others were confirmed after Democrats abolished the filibuster.
In sum, even under a very liberal account of what “blocked by filibusters” might plausibly mean, it is difficult to see how anyone could contend that more than eleven of Obama’s nominees were “blocked by filibusters.”
By contrast, 14 of Bush’s nominees were blocked by filibusters. Only 16 times has the Senate rejected cloture on a judicial nomination. Ten of those were in the 108th Congress when the Democrats were basically filibustering every Bush nomination they could, hoping he would be unelected in 2004. The only reason no SCOTUS nominee was blocked was because Bush didn’t nominate any justices in his first term (a time when Schumer was threatening to filibuster SCOTUS nominees for all four years). The Democrats tried to filibuster Roberts but failed. In the meantime, the Republicans brought up and voted on two of Obama’s SCOTUS nominees.
(The CRS report is here and it really blows away this talking point. Gorsuch’s nomination was only the fifth time cloture was even attempted with a SCOTUS nominee. All five were Republicans nominees. Only seven cabinet nominations have needed cloture votes — five were under Bush. Reid’s office has been citing only two pages of the report, conveniently eliding the other damning parts. Politifact, in proclaiming the “79 of 148″ number true, couldn’t be bothered to look at the full report and just took Reid’s excerpt as gospel. I include that last tidbit just in case you were wondering if Politifact is still full of it.)
Any filibuster of a nominee is wrong, in my opinion. I wasn’t happy when the Republicans did it and I didn’t agree with their sitting on Garland’s nomination. But this business did not start under Obama. It’s been building for years, really all the way back to Bork.
But it goes way beyond that. For eight years, all we heard that was that Republicans were “obstructing” Obama (obstructing, in this sense, meaning a co-equal branch of government not enacting his agenda because they thought it was a bad idea). But that followed on eight years of … Democrats “obstructing” everything Bush wanted to do. If anything, it was worse under Bush. Democrats not only opposed things Bush wanted that they opposed (privatizing Social Security, cutting spending, etc.) but even things they wanted like Medicare’s drug program, Medicaid expansion and massive spending hikes.
And, of course, now that Trump is in power, the Democrats are rediscovering how much fun opposition is. The very same people who cried “obstruction!” for eight years are now crying “obstruction, yes!” as Republicans try to repeal Obamacare, put judges on the bench, enact regulatory reform and … well, anything else. Hell, if Trump proposed single payer healthcare, I am convinced that Democrats would oppose just for the bloody hell of it.
Look, I’m in favor of obstruction. I like it that our government is set up with all kinds of checks and balances that are designed to slow, if not completely stop, bad ideas. But I’ve always been in favor of it. I won’t bash Democrats an “obstructionist” for opposing laws or nominations if they think they are bad ideas. But I will bash them when they claim some kind of factually-challenged moral superiority in doing so.
Yes, the Republicans have been engaging in some shady things. But that’s politics. They only time the Democrats don’t use the same tactics is when they literally can’t. They’ll scream the heavens down about gerrymandering; then they’ll gerrymander the hell out of Maryland. They’ll shout about voter disenfranchisement; but the only reason they want to enfranchise felons is because felons vote Democrat. They scream about Republican special interests; while bankrupting their states in obedience to SEIU. They scream about Garland; and they forget about Estrada.
The Great Liberal Myth is their belief in their own reasonableness and adherence to cold fact. But, as we’ve seen many times, Democrats can be as unreasonable and full of it as anyone. Don’t buy this business that the Garland-Gorsuch thing is a new low. We got there years ago.