Obstructionist tactics lead to procedural games

Obstructionist tactics lead to procedural games
Obstructionist tactics lead to procedural games
Associated Press

The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee was going to hold a confirmation hearing last week for Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. That didn’t happen when Senate Republicans boycotted the hearing, insisting McCarthy had been “unresponsive” to their ploy to bury her in paperwork.

And so, Senate Democrats feel the need to get creative.

The partisan acrimony has led both sides to make unusually shrewd use of the Senate’s esoteric rules. Because Ms. Boxer’s committee was unable to hold a vote on Ms. McCarthy’s nomination – its rules state that at least two members of the minority party must be present for a quorum – she says she will use her own procedural trick.

It works like this: even if every member of the minority party is absent, committees can hold votes if all members of the majority are present. This has been a problem for Democrats because one committee member in their party, Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, is ill and has not been in Washington in recent weeks.

So Mr. Lautenberg plans to travel to Washington on Thursday to give Democrats the quorum they need to force a vote that pushes Ms. McCarthy’s nomination to the Senate floor.

Keep in mind, Lautenberg is 89 years old and currently confined to a wheelchair. Senate Republicans shouldn’t force him from his home just to overcome a GOP obstructionist tantrum, but that’s what they’re doing anyway.

In an amusing twist, the New York Times added that Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is “setting a dangerous standard by disregarding the concerns of the minority party.” Seriously? Senate Republicans demanded McCarthy answer 1,079 written questions – roughly the equivalent of all of the questions Republicans asked of the last three EPA nominees combined, times six – and then tried to block a committee vote by refusing to show up.

And Boxer is “setting a dangerous standard”?

Advancing Thomas Perez’s nomination as the next Labor Secretary is proving to be just as tricky.

Republicans have found canny ways to block votes. In an especially adroit move last week, they stopped Mr. Perez, the labor secretary nominee, from receiving a committee vote by objecting to a routine procedural motion on the Senate floor that is almost always agreed to unanimously.

Their objection set off a rarely used rule that prevents committees from meeting while the full Senate is in session.

Democrats plan to move ahead with a committee vote on Mr. Perez on Thursday by scheduling their meeting early in the morning before the Senate has convened, denying Republicans the chance to object.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared last week, “My Republican colleagues can try every trick in the book. I assure you Mr. Perez will have his day in the Senate. I assure you Ms. McCarthy will have her day in the Senate.”

One side note to all of this that I find interesting is that Republicans feel the need to play these games rather that pursue their more traditional obstructionism. There is, for example, nothing stopping the Senate GOP minority from opposing McCarthy and/or Perez in committee, then using filibusters in the hopes of blocking their respective confirmation votes on the Senate floor.

But notice how Republicans are instead focusing on more obscure tactics, such as boycotting committees and preventing committees from meeting in the first place. Why bother? I suspect it has something to do with the notoriety of the obstructionism – very few people heard about last week’s GOP stunt in the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, but if Republicans tried to kill the White House’s EPA nominee, it becomes a much bigger deal.

It also adds fuel to the fire for filibuster reforms, which remain long overdue.