In a reminder of just how willing Senate Republicans were to forego the Senate Rules the last time they found them inconvenient, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office strung together several clips of Republican Senators calling for filibuster reform in 2005, many of whom are now members of the Senate GOP leadership. Indeed, former Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) new employees at the Heritage Foundation may be surprised to learn that he once offered a compelling case for restoring the democratic legitimacy of the Senate — “now that the American people have clearly spoken by democratically electing a Republican president and a Republican majority in the Senate, 41 senators are attempting to deny the will of the people.” You can watch the full video here:
If anything, the quotes in this video are tamer than many of the statements Senate Republicans made in 2005 regarding filibusters. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who has since voted to filibuster several of President Obama’s judicial nominees, proclaimed that “I would never filibuster any President’s judicial nominee, period.” Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Tom Coburn (R-OK), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jeff Sessions (R- AL), Richard Shelby (R-AL) and John Thune (R-SD) all labeled such filibusters unconstitutional.
Of course, the obvious rejoinder these past statements will be that Senate Democrats opposed filibuster reform at the very same time that Republicans supported it, and it is indeed true that Democrats fought in 2005 for their continued ability to block a handful of President Bush’s most ideological nominees. Or, at least, that they fought very briefly to be able to do so.
Seven Senate Democrats ultimately caved almost entirely to Republican demands and agreed to confirm the three nominees Democrats widely viewed as most objectionable. One of these nominees, Judge Priscilla Owen, took thousands of dollars worth of campaign contributions from Enron when she sat on the Texas Supreme Court, and then wrote an opinion reducing Enron’s taxes by $15 million. Another, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, previously compared liberalism to “slavery” and court decisions upholding the New Deal to a “socialist revolution.” She’s since written an opinion suggesting that all labor, business or Wall Street regulation is constitutionally suspect. So Republicans got virtually all that they wanted in 2005 and they got to keep the filibuster for use against a Democratic president.
Senate Republicans have also wielded the filibuster with unprecedented frequency, the number of votes taken to break a filibuster doubled after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took over as Republican leader:
Similarly, Democrats under Bush never did anything like attempt to shut down a recently created agency by filibustering anyone nominated to lead it. They never tried to unilaterally repeal most of the law’s protections for unions by refusing to confirm anyone to a key labor agency. And they never threatened to filibuster a nominee that even Ted Cruz could raise no objection against in order to maintain partisan control over a powerful court. Indeed, since 1949, when the Senate rules created the modern process allowing a “cloture” vote to end a filibuster on a presidential nominee, a total of 36 executive branch nominees have received such a vote. Nearly half of them occurred under President Obama.
In other words, as recently as 2005, filibusters were a rare maneuver typically only used against nominees viewed as unusually offensive. Now they are used to shut down agencies, to neutralize laws and to shape the outcome of court decisions. It’s not surprising that many senators who supported the first kind of filibuster are no longer willing to accept the later.