For two election cycles, filibuster reform followed the same pattern. Senate Democrats agitated about the need for reform, then ultimately caved to marginal changes that preserved the minority’s veto power over nearly all Senate business. In the 112th Congress, plans for meaningful reform were eventually whittled down into a minor bill eliminating the requirement that some military officers and low-level political appointees be confirmed by the Senate. Similarly, the Senate handed a big victory to Republicans last year when it abandoned significant reform in favor of a package that reduced the ability of a small minority of senators to delay confirmations but ultimately left the GOP’s veto power intact.
At an event hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund on Wednesday, a top advocate of filibuster reform said these kinds of weak tea arrangements are no longer acceptable. Comparing Senate Republican promises to back off filibusters to “Lucy and the football,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said that the fact that so-called “gentlemen’s agreements” with Republicans, and the weak reforms accompanying them, have failed “has not gone unnoticed.” “A third gentlemen’s agreement,” Merkley added, “is not an acceptable outcome.” Watch it:
Significantly, however, Merkley concluded that the Senate needs a path to ensure up or down votes on “executive nominations.” A small number of Senate Democrats have indicated that they are willing to eliminate the filibuster on executive branch nominees, but that they may be more reluctant to do so on judicial nominees. If the Senate ultimately excludes judges from reform, it is likely that additional reforms will ultimately be required to ensure that Senate Republicans cannot hold up all confirmations on the nation’s second most powerful court — or ultimately filibuster anyone a Democratic president nominates to the Supreme Court.