The available research shows that no cabinet nominee has ever faced a filibuster. This week, however, as Chuck Hagel’s Defense Secretary nomination reaches the Senate floor, a new level of Republican obstructionism may very well be reached.
“We’re going to require a 60-vote threshold,” [Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma] told [Josh Rogin].
[Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas] told The Cable, “There is a 60-vote threshold for every nomination.”
Well, no, actually there isn’t. Cornyn has been in the Senate for 11 years, and I have a strong hunch he knows that “every nomination” doesn’t have to clear a “60-vote threshold,” and many haven’t. Why Cornyn is comfortable saying the opposite is anyone’s guess.
Regardless, as Hagel’s Republican detractors strategize – and occasionally engage in ugly McCarthyism – the likelihood of a filibuster grows.
But in a curious twist, they seem reluctant to call it that.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, intended to put a hold on Hagel’s nomination, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he intended to ignore it. It led Graham to tell reporters yesterday that he hopes to block a vote on Hagel, though he doesn’t want to describe his efforts as a filibuster, per se. “I define it as constitutional oversight using the only leverage left,” Graham said.
Oh good, the GOP’s rebranding initiative now includes coming up with better ways to define “filibuster.”
Inhofe was even more explicit: “It’s not a filibuster. I don’t want to use that word.”
But is that really one of their options? Can Republicans launch a filibuster of a cabinet nominee, but defend the tactics by saying they don’t want it to count as a filibuster?
There are experts in the minutiae of Senate procedure who can perhaps explore this in more detail than I can – such experts are encouraged to participate in the comments thread below or email me – but as best as I can tell, what Hagel’s GOP critics want now is an extended debate. Hagel’s nomination was approved in committee yesterday, and is headed to the floor, perhaps as early as today.
Graham, Inhofe, Cornyn, and others hope to delay a vote by keeping the debate on Hagel’s nomination going, daring the Democratic majority to end the debate with a cloture vote.
How is this different from a filibuster? As best as I can tell, there is no difference – a filibuster, for all intents and purposes, is a prolonged debate intended to block an up-or-down vote on a bill or nominee.
And that’s apparently what Hagel’s detractors have in mind. The historical qualities of such a move may make Republicans nervous, but if they want to avoid setting a new precedent, they’ll have to do better than “I don’t want to use that word.”