Anti-Hagel Republicans Once Demanded Up-Or-Down Votes For Nominees

Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL)

Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Credit: Melina Mara, The Washington Post

As Republicans prepare to mount an unprecedented filibuster of Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense, they will demand that 60 Senators (a three-fifths super-majority) agree to proceed before he receives a majority vote on confirmation. But just a few years ago, when Republicans controlled the Senate, many of the same Senators pushed for the elimination of this same threshold for President George W. Bush’s nominees.

Three Senators considered likely to join in the Hagel filibuster, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) made comments during the Bush years that indicated they opposed filibuster of any presidential nominee — judicial or otherwise.

McConnell told CNBC’s Kudlow & Company in 2005, “I think the President is entitled to an up-or-down — that is simple majority — vote on nominations, both to his cabinet and to the executive branch and also to the judiciary.” McConnell was one of the first Republicans to raise the possibility of a Hagel filibuster (Hagel actually once voted to make McConnell the Senate Republican leader).

In a 2008 release called “Confirming President’s Nominees Matter of Fairness, Senate Duty,” Cornyn wrote:

Far too many judicial and executive nominees have been delayed by the majority party of the Senate. An up-or-down vote is a matter of fundamental fairness, and it is the Senate’s constitutional duty to act on each nomination. It is also critically important to our judicial system and the proper functioning of our federal government to fill these positions.
Senators have a right to vote for or against any nominee—but blocking votes on nominations is unacceptable.

Cornyn now doesn’t just plan to vote against Hagel, he is demanding the 60-vote threshold he called fundamentally unfair just five years ago.

Sessions said on the Senate floor in 2005:

The vote, historically, since the founding of this Republic, is a majority vote. Lets [sic] look at that. The Constitution says that the Congress shall advise and consent on treaties, provided two-thirds agree, and shall advise and consent on judges and other nominees. Since the founding of the Republic, we have understood that there was a two-thirds super majority for ratification and advice and consent on treaties and a majority vote for judges. That is what we have done. That is what we have always done. But there was a conscious decision on behalf of the leadership, unfortunately, of the Democratic Party in the last Congress to systematically filibuster some of the best nominees ever submitted to the Senate. It has been very painful.

Today, Sessions isn’t just seeking to block Hagel’s confirmation — he is also threatening to filibuster other cabinet nominees including Treasury Secretary-Designate Jack Lew.

If these and other Senate Republicans care at all about consistency and their own interpretations of the Constitution they took an oath to uphold, they must support giving Hagel and all of the president’s other nominees the up-or-down confirmation vote they say is required.