The Senate keeps a running online tally of every floor vote, and looking over this year’s list, the word “confirmed” is popping up quite a bit more than it used to. Take last night, for example.
The Senate on Monday evening confirmed Jeh C. Johnson as President Obama’s secretary of homeland security.
Mr. Johnson’s nomination was held up in the Senate fight over filibusters. In the end, however, his appointment was approved, 78 to 16, after the relaxed filibuster rules forced by the Democrats allowed a final vote.
On the vote to end debate on Johnson’s nomination, there were 57 votes – a majority of the Senate, but not enough to end a filibuster. But thanks to the so-called “nuclear option,” filibusters on executive-branch nominees are a thing of the past; 57 votes was more than enough to end debate; and Johnson was confirmed to lead DHS easily.
And while President Obama is no doubt pleased to see the restoration of the traditional Senate confirmation process, it’s striking to see just how much progress there’s been in Congress’ upper chamber as a result of the recent rules change. As Rachel noted on the show last night, not only was Johnson approved, but so too was Anne Patterson, Obama’s nominee to be an Assistant Secretary of State.
On Friday of last week, two other executive-branch nominees were confirmed on up-or-down votes. The day before, several judicial nominees were also approved. All told, the Senate has confirmed 13 executive-branch and judicial nominees in just 7 days. How many of them would have been delayed or blocked by Republican obstructionism under the old filibuster rules? According to a Democratic Senate source, all 13.
In other words, by restoring majority rule to the Senate confirmation process, the “nuclear option” has made it possible for the chamber to be efficient and productive again. Maybe Democrats should have done this sooner.
What’s more, the progress is just a hint of what’s to come – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has slated 10 more nominees, include Fed Chair nominee Janet Yellen, for floor votes before the chamber breaks for the holidays. There may not be time for votes on all 10, but without the “nuclear option,” it’s likely we wouldn’t see votes on any of them this year.
For their part, Senate Republicans, whose unprecedented abuse of Senate rules created the need for the recent rules change, still aren’t happy about the restoration of majority rule. The Hill reports that the minority party “will use their private caucus lunch Tuesday to decide on their strategy for holding back a string of nominees.”
GOP senators had some ideas last week about pushing back against procedural progress, but their plan failed rather spectacularly. Apparently, however, they’re not done strategizing on how best to inject more dysfunction into the year-end process.