Holding Up Koh and Johnsen

Marc Ambinder reports that there will be no recess appointments for Dawn Johnsen or Harold Koh:

The true culprits, though, are Republicans, who refuse to allow the Democratic majority to pass the nominees through the Senate by unanimous consent, which would require 50 votes. Non-unanimous consent implies a full debate, which Republicans intend to use to reduce the policy-making energy of the Democratic majority. If the Democrats bring a controversial nominee to the floor, Republicans will filibuster, knowing that there aren’t 60 aye votes. That would eat up precious legislative time.

I continue to be a little bit astonished by how little attention the political establishment is giving to the implications of the routinization of a 60-vote supermajority requirement for all Senate business. This is a very new “tradition” in American governance, it goes against everyone’s common understanding of how democratic procedures are supposed to work, and there’s very little reason to believe that the results will be beneficial in the long run. The fact that the Democrats currently hold 58–59 Senate seats is, I think, to some extent clouding people’s thinking about this. It’s quite rare for either party to have a majority that large. And the implication of the currently evolving norm is that a new president with a 54 or 55 copartisans in the Senate could find himself completely unable to confirm vast numbers of subcabinet nominees, rendering the country essentially ungovernable.

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Meanwhile, the administration and the Senate leadership seems to be shockingly ineffective in bringing attention to this. Consider especially the case of Johnsen, who’s apparently being filibustered on the grounds that she’s pro-choice. How is it that Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both pro-choice Senators from a pro-choice state that voted for the Democratic Presidential nominee in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 feel they can participate in this obstruction with impunity?